Coronavirus Pandemic

Virus Updates: US Tops 28M Cases; Experts Warn of Variants as States Reopen

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The U.S. has reported more than 28 million infections and 492,000 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic last year, according to a tally by NBC News.

The White House said Wednesday the U.S. is vaccinating some 1.7 million people per day, up from under 1 million a month ago. President Joe Biden is on track to blow past his goal of 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office.

However, this week's winter storm system and the bitter cold sweeping the nation has snarled vaccine deliveries and forced the cancellation of countless shots around the country. In Washington, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said that in places where vaccination venues have been closed, like Texas, the government is encouraging sites to increase their hours once they are open.

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

Fla. Gov. Omits Data on Child COVID Rates as He Touts Decision to Open Schools

As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis travels the state promoting his performance fighting the coronavirus, he often points to a relatively low infection rate among children — even after his administration compelled school districts to offer in-person learning.

This week alone, NBC 6 Investigators found that DeSantis misled the public about how Florida stacks up to other states when it comes to infection rates among school-age children.

"We’ve been in-person (learning) as much as anybody in the country. And yet we’re 34th out of 50 states and DC for COVID-19 cases on a per capita basis for children," he said.

That is not true, unless -- as the governor did -- you ignore more than 50,000 children over the age of 14 who contracted the virus.

By using a statistic for children under 15, he effectively removed high school students from the data he cited twice this week to validate his decision to offer in-person classes to all public schools students. The states DeSantis was comparing Florida to do, in fact, include those older students.

Read the full story here.

Feds Open Probe of Cuomo Admin. Over Nursing Home Deaths

Since late last spring, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has faced criticism from families and later Republican lawmakers over a March state health department order mandating that nursing homes accept residents discharged by a hospital even if those residents had COVID-19 at the time they were released.

Cuomo says this order from the health department was consistent with CDC guidance under then-President Donald Trump's administration and his own medical team’s guidance that the best thing for freeing up the precious few hospital beds was to return seniors to nursing homes even if they had COVID-19.

For months, state lawmakers asked for accurate statistics as to who died in hospitals versus who died in nursing homes because of COVID-19.

Now the administration’s reporting on those statistics is part of a federal criminal probe that was opened in the past week and is in its very early stages, multiple people familiar with the matter tell NBC New York.

They say possible investigative avenues could include looks at potential false statements, any scheme to defraud the federal government of funds or any misuse of federal funds.

Read the full story here.

Experts Warn Against COVID-19 Variants as States Reopen

States are beginning to ease coronavirus restrictions, but health experts say we don't know enough yet about variants to roll back measures that could help slow their spread.

As more people are vaccinated and the daily number of COVID-19 cases and deaths decline, public health officials have relaxed mask mandates and re-opened businesses like restaurants, bars and retail establishments.

But the country's genetic surveillance system is still not robust enough to accurately track variants, which means they could be spreading unchecked. Experts say continued public health measures like social distancing can help avoid a variant-powered surge of the virus.

Winter Storms Disrupt COVID Vaccine Distribution

Severe winter weather is delaying delivery of COVID-19 vaccine across the country. The U.S. is now vaccinating 1.7 million people every day, but the Centers for Disease Control warns cases are dropping because we're coming off the holiday surge, not because more people are getting shots. They're also concerned that new strains of coronavirus could push those numbers back up.

Unemployment Claims Rise as Layoffs Remain High

The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid rose last week to 861,000, evidence that layoffs remain painfully high despite a steady drop in the number of confirmed viral infections.

Applications from laid-off workers rose 13,000 from the previous week, which was revised sharply higher, the Labor Department said Thursday. Before the virus erupted in the United States last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

The job market has stalled, with employers having added a mere 49,000 jobs in January after cutting workers in December. Nearly 10 million jobs remain lost to the pandemic. Though the unemployment rate fell last month from 6.7%, to 6.3%, it did so in part because some people stopped looking for jobs. People who aren’t actively seeking work aren’t counted as unemployed.

Read the full story here.

US Life Expectancy Drops a Year in Pandemic, Most Since WWII

Life expectancy in the United States dropped a staggering one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths, health officials are reporting.

Minorities suffered the biggest impact, with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics, nearly two years, according to preliminary estimates Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a huge decline,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC. “You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.”

Read the full story here

Tracking COVID Vaccine Progress by State

FBI, US Attorney Investigate Cuomo Over NY Nursing Home Deaths

A New York Assemblyman says he was yelled at and threatened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo after criticizing his handling of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes — which is now being looked into by the FBI, NBC New York reports.

The Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI have opened a preliminary investigation into the Cuomo administration's handling of nursing home-related data, according to a senior officials familiar with the probe. The administration revealed in recent weeks that 15,000 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.

Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI declined to comment Wednesday night.

The investigation comes as Queens Democrat Ron Kim accused the governor of obstruction and other wrongdoing after an AP report found his administration misrepresented the number of deaths in nursing homes by thousands. One of Cuomo's top aides was also heard telling lawmakers that the administration took months to release data revealing how many people living at nursing homes died of COVID-19 because officials “froze” over worries the information was “going to be used against us" by former President Donald Trump's Justice Department.

Now Kim says Cuomo is "trying to punish me" for speaking out.

Read the full story here

Associated Press/NBC
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