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Coronavirus updates: CDC researchers say schools can reopen safely; US buying 200M more doses, Biden says majority can be vaccinated by fall

Elinor Aspegren

John Bacon
 
| USA TODAY

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COVID-19 has killed more than 425,000 Americans, and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.

With more and more students going back to school this week, evidence from the U.S. and other countries indicates schools can operate safely with precautions and they should open for in-person instruction as soon as possible, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.

In an article published Tuesday in JAMA Network, the researchers wrote that wearing masks and maintaining social distance have proved effective at limiting transmission of the coronavirus in schools, but activities such as indoor sporting events can promote spread and should be diminished.

“The preponderance of available evidence from the fall school semester has been reassuring,” the three researchers wrote. “There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

Still, returning college student populations may be at even greater risk than they were in the fall – not to mention their surrounding communities, where research has suggested greater outbreaks in college towns.

In the headlines:

►Longtime NBA writer Sekou Smith, known for his basketball insight and friendly demeanor, died Tuesday of COVID-19. He was 48 years old.

►Eli Lilly announced that its monoclonal antibody cocktail cuts hospitalizations by 70% for high-risk COVID-19 patients.

►Alaska and Kentucky have detected their states’ first known cases of the coronavirus variant identified last year in the United Kingdom, officials said Tuesday. The diagnoses raise the total of states reporting cases of the variant to 25.

►The global total of coronavirus cases surpassed 100 million Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University dashboard. The U.S., with a little over 4% of the world’s population, has more than 25% of the infections and nearly 20% of the deaths.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 25.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 425,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 100.2 million cases and 2.15 million deaths. About 44.4 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 23.5 million have been administered, according to the CDC. 

📘 What we’re reading: Luck, foresight and science: How an unheralded team developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time.

Biden hopes to have majority of population vaccinated by fall

President Joe Biden has announced that he will raise the minimum weekly supply of vaccines to states over the next three weeks by 16%, to 10 million. Biden is has a deal in the works to purchase 200 million more doses, which would give the U.S. a total of 600 million ordered doses of the two-shot vaccines. That’s enough to inoculate 300 million Americans and more than enough for the country’s estimated 260 million adults. Biden said he expects the new supply to be fully delivered by mid-summer and for the majority of the population to be vaccinated by late summer or early fall.

Antibody cocktail could be game changer for high-risk patients

While vaccines may help slow the COVID-19 pandemic over the next months, drug company Eli Lilly announced Tuesday that its treatments can help save lives in the meantime. The Indianapolis-based drug giant says its monoclonal antibody cocktail cuts hospitalizations by 70% for high-risk patients. A monoclonal antibody mimics one of the natural antibodies the immune system uses to fight off the virus. Former President Donald Trump as well as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani all received monoclonal antibodies shortly after they were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Karen Weintraub

High risk: Schools often ignore public health guidelines for in-class learning

Many school districts and states holding in-person classes have ignored recommendations from public health officials or written their own questionable safety rules – creating a tinderbox where COVID-19 can sicken and kill. An analysis of federal and state data found more than 780 complaints covering more than 2,000 public and private K-12 schools. Among complaints: Employees reported sick children coming to school, maskless students and teachers less than 6 feet apart and administrators minimizing the dangers of the virus and punishing teachers who spoke out.

“The response to the virus has been politicized,” said Dr. Chandy John, an expert in pediatric infectious diseases at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “There’s a willingness to ignore data and facts and go with whatever you’re hearing from the Internet or from political leaders who don’t have any scientific knowledge.”

Laura Ungar, Kaiser Health News

January already deadliest month for pandemic in US

The 4,087 deaths from COVID-19 reported Tuesday – the fourth-highest day in the history of the pandemic – have already made January the deadliest month of the pandemic, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. In the first 26 days of January, the United States reported 79,261 deaths. The total number of deaths in December, which had been the most deadly month, was 77,486 deaths in December. At this pace, January could end with about 94,500 reported deaths.

Some states have been ravaged. California’s previous worst month was 6,772 fatalities, in December, but the state has already reported 12,282 dead in January. January is already the deadliest month for another 15 states: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

– Mike Stucka

Oklahoma Health Department sues company that promised N95 masks

The Oklahoma Health Department in March ordered more than 2 million N95 masks from a Tulsa piano bar owner who promised he could get the coveted PPE from China in large amounts and quickly.

They ordered the masks from Casey Bradford’s brand-new company, PPE Supplies LLC. On the second order, they even paid him half upfront – $2.125 million – after he promised delivery in 10 days.

The Oklahoma Health Department on Tuesday sued Bradford and PPE Supplies LLC in Oklahoma County District Court. Health officials got fewer than 10,000 masks from PPE Supplies and only $300,000 of the deposit back, according to the breach of contract lawsuit. The Health Department is seeking the rest of its money back – $1.825 million, plus interest. It also is seeking punitive damages for “misconduct.”

“Bradford intentionally and willfully misrepresented facts to Plaintiff that induced Plaintiff into entering purchasing orders and advancing a deposit, ” the lawsuit alleges.

– Nolan Clay, The Oklahoman

Double masking ‘just makes common sense,’ says Dr. Anthony Fauci

Double masking was in the spotlight last week during President Joe Biden’s inauguration, where several high-profile officials and celebrities were photographed wearing two masks.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, says that it’s likely more effective to prevent spread: “So, if you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” Fauci told “NBC News’ TODAY” on Monday. “That’s the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95.”

So does a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Matter in July, which found that wearing two masks could increase protection from virus particles by 50% up to 75%. It not only added an extra layer of protection but also made the mask fit snugger around the face, said study author Dr. Loretta Fernandez.

Americans’ renewed interest in double masking also comes as variants that appear to be more contagious emerge from the U.K, South Africa, Brazil and California.

– Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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