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Coronavirus updates: COVID-19 can spread within seconds through talking, study says; Some states report vaccine shortage; UK’s deadliest day

Elinor Aspegren

Adrianna Rodriguez

Doyle Rice


COVID-19 has killed more than 400,000 Americans in less than a year and infections have continued to mount across the country 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 on the coronavirus, including who is getting the vaccines from Pfizer- BioNTech and Moderna, as well as other top news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions to learn more about the virus.

In the headlines:

► On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday mandating that masks be worn and social distancing be kept on federal property. He also will issue a 100-day mask challenge to the country.

► The push to inoculate Americans against the coronavirus is hitting a roadblock: A number of states are reporting they are running out of vaccine, and tens of thousands of people who managed to get appointments for a first dose are seeing them canceled. The reason for the apparent mismatch between supply and demand in the U.S. was unclear, but last week the Health and Human Services Department suggested that states had unrealistic expectations for how much vaccine was on the way.

► The United Kingdom suffered its deadliest day of the pandemic Tuesday, with more than 1,800 deaths recorded in 24 hours, as Boris Johnson’s chief scientific adviser warned some hospitals now look “like a war zone,” Bloomberg News reported. The record daily toll takes the total number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive test in the U.K. to 93,290. Almost 40,000 patients are now receiving treatment in U.K. hospitals.

► During his inaugural address Wednesday, President Joe Biden called COVID-19 a “once-in-a-century virus that silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.” Later in the speech he declared that “we can overcome the deadly virus” but also warned that “we’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus.”

► The U.S. surpassed 400,000 reported coronavirus deaths Tuesday, almost double the total of the next most severely hit nation, Brazil. More than 20,000 people are dying per week. And since March 1, about four Americans have died every five minutes from COVID-19.

► One of Britain’s oldest twins died from COVID-19 just two days before a letter arrived inviting her to take her first dose of the vaccine, The Guardian reported. Doris Hobday, 96, died Jan. 5. Her twin sister, Lil Cox, survived two weeks in the hospital. 

► Twenty-one shipments containing about 11,900 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine were spoiled because of temperature control issues during delivery to Michigan, states health officials said Tuesday. An additional 4,400 doses will not be used in Maine due to the same issue. 

► The majority of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic is out of control, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds. Only about 1 in 10 Americans say the pandemic is mostly under control, the poll found. “The nationwide survey shows that large majorities of people of all political affiliations say they think the deadly virus, which arrived in the country nearly a year ago, is only somewhat under control or not at all controlled,” the Washington Post said.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 24.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 404,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 96.6 million cases and 2 million deaths.

📘 What we’re reading: One year ago today, the United States’ first known case of the novel coronavirus was discovered in Snohomish County, Washington. In the year since, COVID-19 has crept into every county in the nation, killing more than 400,000 people, and infecting 1 in every 14 Americans. Read more here.

Study: Airborne virus can spread 6 feet within seconds through talking

Infectious airborne coronavirus particles can spread further than six feet within seconds in poorly-ventilated spaces, according to a new study Wednesday, providing further evidence that ventilation and face masks are key to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Researchers also found that someone infected with COVID-19 released more particles through 30 seconds of speaking than through a short cough, and those particles could linger in the air and remain infectious for an hour in small, poorly-ventilated spaces. 

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London published their report Wednesday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A. The researchers used mathematical models to study airborne transmission and to build, an app that helps users understand how ventilation and other measures affect indoor transmission.

– Grace Hauck, USA TODAY

NIH director urges COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ to tell their story

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins is urging recovered COVID-19 patients still experiencing prolonged symptoms of the disease to fill out a patient-led survey and tell their story.

“It’s essential for us to learn all we can about how SARS-CoV-2 … leads to such widespread symptoms. It’s also essential that we develop ways to better treat or prevent these symptoms,” Collins said in a blog post published Tuesday.

The most common symptoms among so-called “long haulers” are fatigue, worsening of symptoms after physical and mental activity, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping and “brain fog” or difficulty thinking clearly, according to a December study in the U.S. that has yet to be peer-reviewed.

“As these efforts and others proceed in the coming months, the hope is that we’ll gain more insight and get some answers soon,” said Collins, who was not affiliated with the study.

Despite COVID, standardized testing may force English learners back to school campuses

Schoolchildren who are still learning English typically take a federally required test shortly after the winter break that measures their fluency in the language. While many children are learning at home this year, ACCESS – an English-proficiency test used by most states that takes up to four hours to complete – can’t be done remotely.  

Yet many states seem to be proceeding with business as usual, and it’s unclear what that means for English learners who can’t or opt not to return to campus. This oversight is being met by a rising tide of criticism from advocates and parents nationwide who say in-person testing could put English learners and their families at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19.  

The vast majority of English learners – 94% – are students of color, and those communities have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that Latinos and Blacks in the U.S. are almost three times as likely as their white counterparts to die from the virus. Read more here.

– Alia Wong

Americans dying faster of COVID-19 than US soldiers in World War II

In less than a year, more Americans will die of COVID-19 than died during World War II, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

In the 1,347 days from the attack on Pearl Harbor to V-J Day, 405,399 Americans died fighting in World War II, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. In less than a quarter of that time, at least 400,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19.

These historic tragedies are connected solely by the scale of death and injuries – except for a few soldiers who fought in the war but lost their battle against the coronavirus and the few who survived both.

Still, looking at the two moments together perhaps helps us remember the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of young U.S. soldiers and recognize the serious threat the coronavirus pandemic poses.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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