The Latest: Vaccines and masks: Biden plan aims to break pandemic cycle

WILMINGTON, Del. — A coronavirus action plan to be unveiled by President-elect Joe Biden on

WILMINGTON, Del. — A coronavirus action plan to be unveiled by President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday centers on a mass vaccination campaign and closer coordination among all levels of government.

The Biden plan comes as a divided nation remains caught in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 380,000 Americans have died.

Biden hopes his multidimensional strategy, expected to be detailed in a speech Thursday evening, will put the country on the path to recovery by the end of his first 100 days. “It’s going to be hard,” Biden said Monday after he got his second vaccine shot. “It’s not going to be easy. But we can get it done.”

A more disciplined focus on vaccination is the new and widely anticipated game-changing element, but that’s far from the whole story. Biden is asking Americans to override their sense of pandemic fatigue and recommit to wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and avoiding indoor gatherings, particularly larger ones. That’s still the surest way to brake the COVID-19 wave, with more than 4,400 deaths reported just on Tuesday.

Biden has also talked about asking Congress to pump more money to states, to help their efforts to contain the pandemic and replenish depleted coffers that pay for basic services. And Democratic lawmakers are eager to push for $2,000 economic stimulus payments to Americans.

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Calls to reopen classrooms grow as teachers get vaccinated

State leaders around the U.S. are increasingly pushing for schools to reopen this winter — pressuring them, even — as teachers begin to gain access to the vaccine against the raging pandemic.

Ohio’s governor offered to give vaccinations to teachers at the start of February, provided their school districts agree to resume at least some in-person instruction by March 1. In Arizona, where teachers began receiving shots this week, the governor warned schools that he expects students back in the classroom despite objections from top education officials and the highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the nation over the past week.

“We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,” said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. “Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic.”

Leaders of Arizona’s major hospitals disagreed with the governor’s position, noting at a news conference Wednesday that the state is teetering on the brink of having to ration life-saving care.

“We understand that learning and bringing our children together is very important,” said Dr. Michael White of Valleywise Health. “But at this time with uncontrolled spread of the virus, we need to do things that we know will reduce the chance that the virus will spread and that is not gathering with people we don’t live with.”

The U.S. recorded an all-time, one-day high of 4,327 deaths on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s overall death toll from COVID-19 has topped 380,000, closing in fast on the number of Americans killed in World War II. Confirmed infections have reached about 23 million.

President-elect Joe Biden initially pledged to reopen a majority of the nation’s schools in his first 100 days but recently revised the goal to most of the country’s K-8 schools. He has said teachers should be eligible for vaccinations as soon as possible after those who are at highest risk.

Some states aren’t waiting, but the process can be scattershot.

A report released Wednesday by the CDC adds to the evidence suggesting that children aren’t the main drivers of community transmission. It found that increases in reported cases among adults were not preceded by increases among children and teens. Young adults, it appears, may contribute more to the spread than children do.

‘A pandemic of broken toes’: How life at home has been painful for feet

The coronavirus hasn’t been satisfied with unleashing a serious, contagious disease that has altered everyday life around the planet. In its overachieving way, it is also responsible for increases in anxiety and depression, teeth-grinding, anger, sleeplessness, migraines and another physical ailment being noted by orthopedists and podiatrists:

“There’s a pandemic of broken toes,” said John Keeling, an orthopedic surgeon in Chevy Chase, Md. He estimates the number of broken toes seen at his office has tripled or quadrupled.

Ben Pearl, a podiatrist whose practice is Arlington Foot and Ankle, said he has “absolutely” seen an increase in broken toes, “and the short reason is that with the pandemic, people are spending more time at home.”

Jane Andersen, a podiatrist with Chapel Hill Foot & Ankle Specialists, said she has also been treating more patients with plantar fasciitis, tendinitis and even ingrown toenails. “There are little trickle-down effects from pandemic and isolation that are happening,” Andersen said, “and broken toes is only one of them.”

Keeling has implicated Zoom meetings and online school — he has also seen an increase in broken toes among kids — for some of the breaks. Whatever his patients’ age, “they’re going around with either stocking or bare feet, and in the haste to get to the next meeting, they bump into the furniture.”

Other potential factors: Furniture might be in different places, thanks to all the workstations we’ve set up for at-home jobs and school. Or, in an effort to improve our spaces, we might be moving furniture or carrying boxes of decluttered items or packages of online purchases, which we then drop on our toes. In addition: “People are dropping bottles of wine on the big toe,” Keeling said. “A bottle of wine or a heavy jar seem to be a big killer for the great toe, or big toe.”

Virus cases among lawmakers show that one vaccine dose does not immediately protect against infection

WASHINGTON – Three members of Congress contracted the novel coronavirus after sheltering in a crowded room as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, testing positive despite having been vaccinated against the virus.

Those positive tests do not mean the vaccines were faulty, experts said, noting that immune protection takes more than a week to kick in. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that are available to Americans require two doses for full protection; a single dose is not as effective as two.

People shelter in the House gallery as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Associated Press/Andrew Harnik

“Early protection against COVID-19 may occur from about 12 days after dose one,” said Naor Bar-Zeev, an infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. People “should not really consider themselves protected really until after a week or two following Dose 2.”

Even though the vaccines may protect people from showing symptoms, those vaccinated could remain susceptible to infection, he said, which is why officials are urging those who have been recently vaccinated to continue to wear masks and maintain social distance.

The Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are about 95% effective after two doses, according to the companies. Pfizer’s vaccine consists of two doses, given two weeks apart, and Moderna’s contains two doses given 28 days apart.

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., Bradley Schneider, D-Ill., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., tested positive this week. All three of the lawmakers have said they received the first dose of coronavirus vaccine in the days before the riot.

Wisconsin reports a new, possibly more contagious virus variant

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin health officials say a new, possibly more contagious form of the coronavirus has been detected in the state.

Lake Michigan shore in Milwaukee, Wis. on Tuesday. Associated Press/Morry Gash

The Department of Health Services announced the variant was detected through routine genome sequencing of specimens collected during testing. The department didn’t say where it was found or when it was confirmed. An agency spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email.

The variant form of the virus was first discovered in England in November and December. It’s since turned up in Colorado, California, Florida, Minnesota, New York and Georgia.

Health officials have said the variant is more easily transmissible but isn’t any deadlier and vaccines should be effective against it.

Defiance of indoor dining bans grows as restaurants rack up fines

BORING, Ore. — Health officials in Oregon and other states with bans say they are necessary because people can’t wear masks when they eat, are in close proximity in smaller and often poorly ventilated spaces, and are prone to talk more loudly in a crowded dining room — all known contributors to viral spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists indoor dining as a “particularly high-risk” activity.

But even as coronavirus deaths soar, a growing number of restaurants in states across the country are reopening in defiance of strict COVID-19 rules that have shut them down for indoor dining for weeks, or even months. Restaurants can serve people outside or offer carry-out, but winter weather has crippled revenues from patio dining.

The Farm Boy Drive-In restaurant has been facing fines and penalties for continuing to offer inside dining despite current restrictions on the practice in Washington state due to the coronavirus pandemic. Associated Press/Ted S. Warren

In Oregon, an organized effort to get businesses to reopen for indoor service starting Jan. 1 has been championed by several mayors, who formed a group to raise legal defense funds in anticipation of a court fight. Similar revolts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Washington state have also gained traction, with the rule-breakers saying their industry has been unfairly singled out while other businesses, like big box stores and airlines, continue operating.

The states with the strictest dining rules are led by Democratic governors and the protests have consequently attracted the support of right-wing groups that, in some cases, have stationed armed individuals at business entrances and organized protests on behalf of owners.

It’s impossible to know how many Oregon restaurants have heeded the call to reopen because many are keeping quiet about it. Stan Pulliam, the mayor of Sandy, Oregon, said he attended meetings all over the state where establishments were encouraged to reopen and said the so-called Open Oregon coalition includes at least 300 small businesses, not all of them restaurants.

Some non-compliant businesses have already racked up thousands of dollars in fines from health and safety inspectors. In Washington state, one restaurant has been fined nearly $145,000 and is challenging a restraining order in court. In Michigan — where a ban on indoor dining expires Friday but could be extended — a restaurant industry group sued over the ban and a major Detroit-area restauranteur rallied hundreds of colleagues to reopen last month in violation of state rules before backing down.

In Pennsylvania, the state closed 36 restaurants over violations during a ban on indoor dining that expired Jan. 4 and sued 21 establishments.

Coronavirus shutdowns have quashed nearly all other common viruses. Scientists say a rebound is coming.

Veteran virus trackers say they are chronicling something never before seen — the suppression of virtually every common respiratory and gastrointestinal virus besides the novel coronavirus. They theorize that is largely due to global shutdowns, mask-wearing and a host of other health protocols aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

These other viruses — including influenza A, influenza B, parainfluenza, norovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human metapneumovirus — all appear to be circulating at or near levels lower than ever previously measured. The same is true for the respiratory bacteria that cause pertussis, better known as whooping cough, and pneumonia.

Shoppers in Sydney, Australia in early January. Associated Press/Mark Baker

As welcome as the absence of these other viruses is during a pandemic, epidemiologists say they see a potentially dangerous consequence after coronavirus cases eventually decline — a rebound that could be frightfully large given the relaxation of social distancing and lowered immunity to other pathogens.

“The best analogy is to a forest fire,” said Bryan Grenfell, an epidemiologist and population biologist at Princeton. “For the fire to spread, it needs to have unburned wood. For epidemics to spread, they require people who haven’t previously been infected. So if people don’t get infected this year by these viruses, they likely will at some point later on.”

The possibility of a rebound is not merely theoretical: It appears to be happening already in Australia. Official reports showed historically low levels of flu-like illness among children and adults beginning in May, usually the start of flu season in that hemisphere. The sharp decline in cases came as the country imposed strict shutdown measures. But in the last few months, after the coronavirus was virtually obliterated and the country ended those restrictions, the number of flu cases among children aged 5 and younger began to soar, rising sixfold by December, when such cases are usually at their lowest.

COVID-19 deaths in U.S. hit another one-day high at over 4,300

The United States set a another record for COVID-19 deaths reported in a single day, tallying more than 4,250 on Tuesday, with new infections still at an all-time high and hospitals across the country contending with a flood of sick patients.

It was the second time during the course of the pandemic that the country’s daily toll surpassed 4,000, after a previous high of 4,027 last week. The statistics have been startling for weeks, since a fall surge of new cases accelerated into the winter, probably fueled by gatherings and travel during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

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Workers put bodies into a refrigerated trailer at the offices of the Los Angeles County Coroner on Friday. ABC7 Los Angeles via Associated Press

Experts predicted the soaring numbers, and officials pleaded with Americans to stay home and stay vigilant. Yet the virus has devastated from coast to coast as never before, prompting concern among scientists that the spread could be accelerating because of an undetected mutation-laden variant.

Tuesday’s record 4,254 deaths — 1,200 more fatalities than were recorded during the worst days of April — came from across the country. California accounted for 548 of those killed. Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Virginia each set records for deaths reported in a single day.

In hard-hit Los Angeles County, the virus is killing one person every eight minutes, said Hilda Solis, a county supervisor and former U.S. labor secretary.

“This only ends when we each make the right decisions to protect each other,” she wrote on Twitter, echoing entreaties that have become increasingly dire with the area’s hospitals nearly overwhelmed.

Jeffrey Duchin, a public health officer in King County, Wash., observed that COVID-19 has now killed more people across the country than the last 10 influenza seasons combined.

The record death total is but one of several calamitous milestones the country marked this week. On Monday, the seven-day rolling averages of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths each hit all-time highs. Twenty-four hours later, the country topped its case and death records again.

U.S., Canada extend border restrictions for 30 days

TORONTO — Pandemic restrictions on nonessential travel at the U.S.-Canada border will enter their 11th month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.

“This is an important decision, and one that will keep people on both sides of the border safe,” he told reporters outside an official residence in Ottawa.

The measures, which enjoy broad support in Canada, have had limited effect on trade and the movement of essential workers. But the tourism industry has chafed at them, and their impact has been felt in tightly knit cross-border communities.

The restrictions also apply to asylum seekers attempting to enter Canada from the United States at unofficial land border crossings and vice versa. Previously, such migrants could enter to make their claims, but under the pandemic border measures, they are bounced back.

Canadian officials said last March that they received “assurances” from the United States that most asylum seekers turned back at unauthorized crossings would be able to return to make their claims when the restrictions are lifted. But several have been detained with final orders of removal on the U.S. side, and at least one has been deported.

Trudeau indicated last month that the restrictions would not be lifted until the coronavirus pandemic is “significantly more under control” around the world. The current measures will remain in place until at least Feb. 21.

California lifts some stay-at-home orders

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is lifting a stay-at-home order for 13 northern counties because of improving hospital conditions but most of the state’s population remains under tight restrictions because of the deadly coronavirus surge.

The state lifted a December ban on outdoor dining, hair and nail salons and other services for the Sacramento region. But three of five state regions — the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California — remain under the stay-at-home order because their hospitals’ intensive care capacity is severely limited.

Officials are trying to ramp up vaccinations to slow the infection rate.

California is averaging 42,000 new cases daily and recorded 3,500 virus deaths in the last week. On Monday, the pandemic death toll topped 30,000 in the state.

 


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