Coronavirus Pandemic

Virus Updates: Hospitalizations Fall But Deaths Stay High

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This Sunday is one of the biggest sports events of the year: the Super Bowl. Fearing the possible spread of the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, is warning Americans against going to parties or gatherings for the game. "Just lay low and cool it," he said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, as the debate over how to get kids safely back to school continues across much of the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that schools can reopen even if teachers are not vaccinated. CDC data shows that simply social distancing and wearing a mask significantly reduces the spread of the virus in school settings.

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

US Officials Mull Sending Masks to Each American

Biden administration officials are weighing sending masks to every American as they hope to nudge individuals to do their part in lowering coronavirus transmission rates.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain said in an interview with NBC News that administration officials are looking at using mask supplies that the government already has in its stockpile.

Klain said that the administration hopes to make an announcement on a potential move “in the next few days or next week.”

Biden has pleaded for Americans to wear masks during the first 100 days of his administration. It’s a step he said could help save thousands of lives as Americans await their turn to be vaccinated.

Hospitalizations Fall, But Virus Deaths Stay Stubbornly High

Coronavirus hospitalizations are falling across the United States, but deaths have remained stubbornly high, with 50,000 new fatalities in the last two weeks alone.

Infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping as well, after new cases hit a peak right around the beginning of the year.

“The patients who were infected in that wave — or in that peak — who will ultimately die of COVID, those deaths are happening now,” said Dr. Thomas Holland of Duke University.

The nation reported 3,912 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, down from the pandemic peak of 4,466 deaths on Jan. 12. On Thursday, the United States hit 450,000 total deaths.

The biggest driver to the U.S. death toll over the past month has been California, which has averaged more than 500 deaths per day in recent weeks.

Car Carrying Vaccines Stolen in Florida

Florida police are investigating the theft of a car that was carrying $10,000 worth of COVID-19 vaccine.

The Plant City Police Department said Thursday that it is searching for a man suspected of having stolen the vehicle with 30 vials inside. The police incident report says the car had been left with the engine running and unlocked by a driver who worked for CDR Maguire, a contractor that had been providing vaccination scheduling and COVID testing.

Police said the driver had gotten out of the car to ask for instructions on where to go, news outlets reported. The incident report said the doses, a cooler and the compound agent were stolen, but it is not clear how the vaccines were being stored.

Read the full story here.

Texas Motor Speedway Opens Massive Vaccination Hub, With Aim to Process 10,000 People a Day

As they say: Everything’s bigger in Texas.

Denton County has launched what’s reported to be the largest vaccination drive-thru clinic in the state, and possibly in the country, at the Texas Motor Speedway, NBC DFW reports.

The county vaccinated 9,100 people Tuesday, with the goal of serving 30,000 by the end of the week. They aim to eventually be able to process 10,000 people a day.

“We’ve seen so many struggles with these mass vaccination sites, but we’re used to doing things on a very big scale,” said TMS President Eddie Gossage.

Gossage said his speedway property was chosen for its massive footprint, situated off I-35W at Texas 114.

NHL Revises Virus Protocols With 40 Players on COVID-19 List

The NHL has followed the NBA in revising its virus protocols early in the season as a response to COVID-19 problems cropping up around the league.

Glass panels have been removed from behind benches for better air flow, players and coaches are not allowed at the arena until 1 hour and 45 minutes before the game unless they’re getting treatment for injuries and all meetings must be virtual.

The 31 teams were also told to space out locker rooms more to provide 6 feet of space between people. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the updates Thursday in an email to The Associated Press.

The league is not yet considering adding a daily rapid test to go along with PCR testing, like the NBA did. PCR tests are considered to be more accurate, but there's a 12-24 hour turnaround on results.

The moves were made as the NHL sees some concerning trends: 40 players were on the COVID-19 unavailable list and four teams were idled because of varying degrees of outbreaks.

Video Shows Unmasked Employees and Customers in Florida Supermarket

New video from a popular supermarket in Florida shows customers and employees of all ages openly flouting the rules for mask wearing, spurring outrage as the country continues to battle the coronavirus. NBC’s Sam Brock reports for TODAY from Naples, Florida.

UK Launches ‘World First' Trial Mixing Different COVID Vaccines for First, Second Doses

The United Kingdom is launching a trial to explore whether using different COVID-19 vaccines for the first and second doses works in a bid to make nationwide vaccination programs more flexible.

The trial, being led by the University of Oxford and run by the National Immunisation Schedule Evaluation Consortium, will evaluate the feasibility of using a different vaccine for the initial "prime" vaccination to the follow-up "booster" vaccination. 

It is hoped the study will help policymakers understand whether mixing different COVID vaccines could be a viable route to increase the flexibility of vaccination programs and whether it could even provide better protection.

"If we do show that these vaccines can be used interchangeably in the same schedule this will greatly increase the flexibility of vaccine delivery, and could provide clues as to how to increase the breadth of protection against new virus strains," Matthew Snape, chief investigator on the trial and associate professor in Paediatrics and Vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said on Thursday.

The trial, which is formally known as the "COVID-19 Heterologous Prime Boost study" but has been dubbed the "Com-Cov" study, will recruit over 800 volunteers aged 50 and above in England to evaluate the four different combinations of prime and booster vaccination.

Read the full story here

US Tops 450K Virus-Related Deaths

The United States has reported more than 451,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The grim milestone, which, according to a tally by NBC News, the U.S. reached on Wednesday, comes after the country saw the most deadly month with more than 95,000 deaths in January alone.

More than 26.5 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S., according to NBC News.

Associated Press/NBC
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