Coronavirus Pandemic

Virus Updates: States Ease Rules Despite Warnings; Inside ‘Post-COVID' Clinics

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Over the weekend, Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine became the third to receive emergency use authorization from the United States' Food and Drug Administration. Unlike the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, it works with just one shot.

Meanwhile, the Senate will receive a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Monday after it passed in the House. The bill would provide millions of people with $1,400 direct payments. It also includes billions for struggling businesses, emergency jobless benefits, coronavirus tests and vaccines, and schools.

The U.S. has reported more than 516,000 deaths and 28 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, according to a tally by NBC News.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from the U.S. and elsewhere:

Deal Reached to Get California Children Back in Classrooms

The majority of California's 6.1 million public school students could be back in the classroom by April under new legislation announced Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders. Critics panned the plan as inadequate.

Most students in the nation's most populous state have been learning from home for the past year during the pandemic. But with new coronavirus cases falling rapidly throughout the state, Newsom and lawmakers have been under increasing pressure to come up with a statewide plan aimed at returning students to schools in-person.

If approved by the Legislature, the plan announced Monday would not order districts to return students to the classroom and no parents would be compelled to send their kids back to school in-person. Instead, the state would set aside $2 billion to pay districts that get select groups of students into classrooms by the end of the month.

Crucially, the legislation does not require districts to have an agreement with teachers' unions on a plan for in-person instruction. That's a barrier that many districts, including the nation's second-largest district in Los Angeles, have not been able to overcome.

It also does not require all teachers be vaccinated, as teacher unions had urged and that could take months given the nation's limited supply of vaccine. The legislation would make it state law that 10% of the state's vaccine supply be set aside specifically for teachers and school staff.

The state's two largest teachers unions mostly praised the agreement, with California Federation of Teachers President Jeff Freitas calling the prioritization of vaccines for teachers “a huge victory.” Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist representing many of the state's school districts, called the plan “a grand slam home run," saying it “dismantled every impediment to reopening that we've had so far.”

States Easing Virus Restrictions Despite Experts' Warnings

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky says she is concerned about the leveling off in recent declines of COVID-19 cases across the country.

With the U.S. vaccination drive picking up speed and a third formula on the way, states eager to reopen for business are easing coronavirus restrictions despite warnings from health experts that the outbreak is far from over and that moving too quickly could prolong the misery.

Massachusetts on Monday made it much easier to grab dinner and a show. In Missouri, where individual communities get to make the rules, the two biggest metropolitan areas — St. Louis and Kansas City — are relaxing some measures. Iowa's governor recently lifted mask requirements and limits on the number of people allowed in bars and restaurants, while the town of Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas, now lets establishments stay open until midnight.

The push to reopen comes as COVID-19 vaccine shipments to the states are ramping up. Nearly 20% of the nation’s adults — or over 50 million people — have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 10% have been fully inoculated 2 1/2 months into the campaign to snuff out the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Monday, the head of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, urgently warned state officials and ordinary Americans not to let down their guard, saying she is "really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures that we have recommended.”

“I remain deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic,” she said at the White House. “We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground that we have gained.

WHO: 'Premature,' 'Unrealistic' COVID-19 Will End Soon

A senior World Health Organization official said Monday it was “premature” and “unrealistic” to think the pandemic might be stopped by the end of the year, but that the recent arrival of effective vaccines could at least help dramatically reduce hospitalizations and death.

The world’s singular focus right now should be to keep transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible, said Dr. Michael Ryan, director of WHO's emergencies program.

“If we’re smart, we can finish with the hospitalizations and the deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic” by the end of the year, he said at media briefing.

Ryan said WHO was reassured by emerging data that many of the licensed vaccines appear to be helping curb the virus' explosive spread. But Ryan warned against complacency, saying that nothing was guaranteed in an evolving epidemic.

Despite COVID Restrictions on Events, Conn. Balloon Business Vows to Survive 'By Any Means Necessary'

While some businesses quickly found ways to meet coronavirus reopening requirements, Ava Party Designs had to rework their entire strategy. Owner Ava Sealey shared the difficult decisions she had to make about whether to even keep her business open and how to manage continued restrictions on event venues and gathering sizes.

Deal Reached to Get California Children Back in School

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislative leaders have reached an agreement aimed at getting most public school children back in classrooms by the end of March.

The agreement sets aside $6.6 billion for schools that return to in-person instruction by March 31. The details of the plan are complicated and were confirmed by two state officials with knowledge of the plan who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about it publicly.

California counties are divided up into different coronavirus infection level tiers, with each tier having specific rules about how businesses and other public spaces can operate during the pandemic.

To be eligible for this new money, districts in the most restrictive tier -- known as the purple tier -- must return to in-person instruction at least through second grade, the officials said. Districts in the next highest tier, the red tier, must return to in-person instruction for all elementary school grades, plus at least one grade in middle and high school, the officials said.

To get the money, districts must meet the requirements by March 31, the officials said. Beginning April 1, for every instructional day school districts do not meet the requirements, the amount of money they are eligible to receive will go down by 1%, the officials said.

How Specialized Centers Are Trying to Treat COVID 'Long-Haulers'

As the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. appears to be turning a corner, another health crisis is brewing: COVID-19 survivors struggling to bounce back to their former selves.

Of the more than 28 million Americans diagnosed with the coronavirus, an estimated 10% to 30% — possibly as many as 8.4 million people — fall into the category commonly known as "long-haulers," NBC News reports.

The majority are coping with a wide range of lingering symptoms, including life-altering fatigue, ongoing shortness of breath, headaches, even hair loss.

Despite the staggering numbers, there's no clear diagnosis, no standard care and no national guidelines for how these patients should be treated. There are hopeful signs, however. Congress has approved $1.15 billion to study long-term symptoms of COVID-19 and at special clinics around the country, a better understanding of the condition is emerging, according to a new analysis by NBC News.

NBC News identified more than 80 “post-COVID” clinics in the U.S. Click a state to see a list of clinics in the state:

Johnson & Johnson Ships Out First Vaccine Doses Monday

Johnson & Johnson began shipping its coronavirus vaccine across the United States on Monday for injections starting on Tuesday.

The company, which won emergency approval for their single-dose shot this weekend, is sending the doses out from its McKesson Distribution Center in Shepherdsville, Kentucky.

"We’re shipping 4 million literally as we speak," Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said Monday on NBC's "TODAY" show. “Within the next 24 to 48 hours, Americans should start receiving shots in arms."

J&J will deliver about 16 million more doses by the end of March. Gorsky said the company expects to distribute 100 million shots by June and a billion by the end of the year.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted overwhelmingly Sunday to recommend the vaccine for adults 18 years old and up. It adds to the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that were authorized in December.

Associated Press/NBC
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