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Vaccine distribution continues to vary by state; US considers requiring negative test for domestic air travel: Latest COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

President Joe Biden’s effort to create 100 mass vaccination sites nationwide in 100 days is well underway as California and Maryland announced new openings of several such sites last week.

More people are getting shots, too, pushing states to expand eligibility as the U.S. government currently administers about 1.4 million vaccines a day. Wisconsin is leading the way in daily administrations as the state expands its rollout to include free vaccination clinics.

Appointments to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Oregon have been quickly booked. Hundreds of people have showed up at Alabama vaccination sites. 

But other states are holding back on giving vaccines, while appointments remain vacant. In Massachusetts, there are still over 7,500 appointments available at mass vaccination sites, but Gov. Charlie Baker said they won’t go to anyone who’s not in the first phase of vaccinations or at least 75 years old. 

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization on Monday said it was “concerning news” that some vaccines appear less effective against the South African variant of the coronavirus.

Vaccine manufacturers will need to modify their shots and boosters will likely be necessary in the future as the virus changes genetically, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.

In the headlines:

►The United States has reported 775,975 new COVID-19 cases in a seven-day period ending Monday, the first time the weekly tally has been under 800,000 cases since Nov. 6. The country peaked at about 1.75 million cases per week last month.

CVS and Walgreens will begin vaccinating select populations in stores this week, the companies say. Walgreens announced last week its program in 15 states will begin Friday, while CVS said Monday it was pushing back its start date in 11 states from Thursday to Friday.

►Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will quarantine for 14 days after a member of his security detail tested positive for COVID-19, his chief of staff announced Monday.

►The Biden administration is considering a rule that would require negative COVID-19 test results for domestic air travel, according to Buttigieg.

►Congressional Democrats rejected calls from some moderate lawmakers to reduce the number of people eligible for $1,400 stimulus checks in President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief proposal, proposing an income threshold of $75,000 annually, the same threshold as the last round of $600 checks.

►Amid stark racial disparities in vaccine access, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will hold a town hall Tuesday on the COVID-19 vaccine and local distribution efforts in her New York district. Roughly half of the predominantly low-income community in Ocasio-Cortez’s district is Hispanic. 

►Want a COVID-19 test for your pet? In South Korea, officials said they will be giving cats and dogs free tests if they come in contact with infected humans and are symptomatic. And yes, they will have to quarantine for 14-day if they test positive. 

►Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, who battled lung cancer and was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19, died at 67, his office announced Monday.

►Disney’s California Adventure park is set for a limited reopening mid-March for a “limited-time ticketed experience” of outdoor dining, the company said Monday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 27 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 465,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 106.5 million cases and 2.33 million deaths. More than 59.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 42.4 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Even as the latest surge in coronavirus infections abates across the nation, USA TODAY research found 245 hospitals reporting full intensive care units as of Jan. 28 and 477 hospitals reporting more COVID-19 patients in the ICU than the previous week. You can find out which hospitals in your community are overwhelmed here.

Should employers give workers time off or other incentives to get vaccine?

T.J. Daniels was hoping after working at a Petco store in Colorado for 11 months during a pandemic that the company would give him time off to get a COVID-19 vaccine and deal with any potential side effects. So far, nothing. And while Petco said it was poised to announce a plan, most major employers, including Amazon, Target and Walmart, are not committing to provide any extra pay or time off to workers to get their shots.

Advocates say incentives will encourage vaccinations, which will result in more protection for employees and customers. It will also potentially limit downtime that can occur when workers contract the virus. Experts say a high proportion of the U.S. population needs to get vaccinated to build herd immunity, which would limit the coronavirus from continuing to spread.

Dollar General, McDonald’s and Olive Garden are among the employers that have announced incentives for workers to get vaccinated. But most others are saying only that they’re strongly encouraging vaccination and essentially forcing workers to do it on their own time.

It doesn’t make sense for businesses to refuse to give workers a few hours of paid time off to get vaccinated, said Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. “Why the heck would you not?” she said. “You want to encourage people to take the vaccine.”

– Nathan Bomey

WHO says it will end research into unlikely coronavirus lab-leak theory

World Health Organization investigators said Tuesday that they would no longer pursue research into whether the coronavirus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China

Peter Ben Embarek, a food safety and animal diseases expert, announced the decision during a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of WHO experts to the city where COVID-19 was first identified in 2019. 

Embarek said there was not enough evidence to support a hypothesis that the virus escaped from a Chinese biosafety laboratory in Wuhan – the Wuhan Institute of Virology – and that the WHO stood by its previous determination that COVID-19 most likely entered the human population through an intermediate animal. 

The WHO team has spent several weeks on a fact-finding mission in Wuhan. Experts from 10 nations have visited hospitals, research institutes and a wildlife market tied to the outbreak. However, the WHO’s fieldwork and other activities in Wuhan have been closely monitored by Chinese officials and security officers, and Beijing has repeatedly resisted called for a completely independent investigation into the origins of the virus.

– Kim Hjelmgaard

Worrisome South African variant may change expectations about vaccines 

A new study showing the South African variant of the coronavirus eludes protection from the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine means “we must recalibrate our expectations,” said Shabir Madhi, director of the Vaccines & Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand, who conducted the trial. 

There is still much to learn about the variant, which has been detected in only six instances in the U.S. so far. We still don’t know whether it’s more transmissible and if so by how much, or whether the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine prevents severe disease from the variant, as some scientists expect. 

AstraZeneca researchers say they’re working to tweak their vaccine by inserting a genetic sequence from the new variant.

The variant has reduced the level of protection offered by virtually all the vaccines, but most vaccines show satisfactory efficacy in protecting against severe cases and death causes by this version of the virus, Madhi said. Here are more answers to questions about the variant.

Facebook takes action to crack down on lies about COVID-19 vaccines 

Facebook is moving more aggressively to combat vaccine misinformation, taking down debunked claims on Facebook and Instagram including that vaccines cause autism or that it is safer for people to get COVID-19 than to receive the immunization.

Facebook also warned that groups, pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that repeatedly share these falsehoods may be removed.  Administrators of groups that have administrators or members who have violated COVID-19 policies may also be required to temporarily approve all posts.

The new policy is a departure for Facebook. Last fall, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would not target anti-vaccination posts the same way it has cracked down on COVID misinformation.

False claims about vaccines have circulated on social media platforms for years, giving rise to a powerful anti-vaxxer movement with deep roots and a long reach.

– Jessica Guynn

Contributing: The Associated Press

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