The United States surpassed 26 million confirmed coronavirus cases over the weekend, according to a tally by NBC News. The U.S. has seen more than 443,000 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.
New and more transmissible variants are contributing in part to the continued spread of the virus. A strain first detected in the United Kingdom has now been found in 31 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And last week, several cases of a variant first discovered in South Africa were reported in the U.S. for the first time.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden will meet with a group of Republican senators on Monday to discuss another round of coronavirus relief. The 10 GOP senators have proposed spending about one-third of the $1.9 trillion Biden is seeking in coronavirus aid, though congressional Democrats are poised to move ahead without Republican support.
Here are the latest coronavirus updates from the U.S. and elsewhere:
Democrats Risk Unintended Medicare Cuts If They Pass Partisan COVID Relief
Democrats considering a maneuver to forgo bipartisan support to pass COVID-19 relief are confronting an unintended consequence: Doing so could automatically cut Medicare.
Many Democrats want to pass President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal, which includes $1,400 stimulus checks and aid to local governments. A group of Republican senators is pushing for a smaller plan that would provide $1,000 checks.
So Democratic leaders are preparing to use a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow them to pass Biden's proposal without getting 60 votes in the Senate, which would require at least 10 Republicans.
But under the Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, known as PAYGO, new laws that raise the national debt automatically trigger offsetting cuts in some safety net programs.
The cuts can be avoided, budget experts say, only with 60 Senate votes — leaving Democrats back where they started, because it's unclear whether Republicans would vote to prevent the cuts after having opposed a partisan relief package.
U.S. Strikes $230 Million Deal for Over-the-Counter COVID Tests
"These are over-the-counter, self-performed test kits that can detect COVIDwith roughly 95 percent accuracy within 15 minutes," Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, told reporters on Monday.
The Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization in December for Ellume's tests, which are expected to cost about $30 each.
"Ellume has been ramping up manufacturing and will ship 100,000 test kits per month to the U.S. from February through July," Slavitt said. "That’s good, but it’s obviously not where we will need to be."
CDC Says US Cases Down, But 3 Variants Detected
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are down in recent weeks, but three mutations that are causing concern have been detected in the U.S.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday at the White House coronavirus briefing that most of the dozens of U.S. cases of coronavirus mutations, or variants, involve the strain first detected in the United Kingdom.
But three cases involving a worrisome mutation first detected in South Africa have also been confirmed, as well as one case involving a strain first detected in Brazil.
The UK strain spreads more easily and is believed to be deadlier, but the South Africa strain is prompting even more concern because of early indications that vaccines may not be as protective against it.
Walensky urged Americans to get vaccinated as soon as shots become available to them, and stressed it’s no time to relax basic precautions such as wearing masks.
California Governor and Unions Clash Over School Openings
An effort to reopen California schools is foundering, stoking frustrations across America’s most populous state from parents eager to get their children back in classrooms and a governor who wants them there, NBC Los Angeles reports.
Parents and behavioral experts say many schoolchildren are feeling helpless or depressed and need a classroom setting to improve their mental health. An exasperated Gov. Gavin Newsom told school officials last week to “pack it up” if they fail to resume in-person classes soon.
Teacher unions say they won’t send their members into an unsafe environment. They want all teachers vaccinated before returning to the classroom.
While Texas, Florida and New York are among states that have resumed some classroom instruction, California’s 10,000 public schools have for the most part been closed since March. As most of the state’s 6 million public school students approach a one-year anniversary of distance learning, parents are grappling more than ever with the toll of isolation and intense screen time on their kids’ well-being.
Read the full story here
CDC Mandate on Masks on Public Transportation Goes Into Effect Monday
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday night that mask-wearing will be required on all public transportation beginning Monday night at 11:59 p.m. ET, NBC News reports.
The mandate issued by CDC division director Martin S. Cetron was made after President Joe Biden issued an executive order Jan. 21 that called for "immediate action" on mask-wearing for "all forms of public transportation."
It applies to all public commercial transportation — planes, trains, boats and buses — and to transportation hubs, such as air terminals, train stations, subway stations, seaports and bus depots.
It also covers ferries, subways, taxis and ride-hail vehicles, the CDC said. Operators and transportation workers must wear masks, too.