March 7, 2021

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California legislators agree on $6.5B deal to reopen schools; Joe Biden set to pledge $4B to COVAX. Latest COVID-19 updates

5 min read

President Joe Biden is set to announce a $4 billion U.S. commitment to the global vaccine alliance known as COVAX, aimed at helping poor countries inoculate their populations, according to a senior administration official. 

Biden will outline the pledge during Friday’s virtual meeting with G7 members. The White House plans to release $2 billion immediately and use the additional $2 billion as leverage to get other wealthy nations to contribute to the global vaccination effort, according to the official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity. 

In December, COVAX officials said they had a shortfall of more than $4 billion in pledges that, if not filled, would result in a “a protracted pandemic, with severe economic consequences” for rich and poor countries alike.

Scientists and advocates fear that if wealthy nations hoard vaccines, the novel coronavirus will continue to mutate and could return to threaten the U.S. and others.

More contagious variants are already circulating in the U.S. and across the globe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that at least 1,549 cases of the coronavirus variants first spotted in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil in the U.S.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

In the headlines:

►After weeks of tense negotiations, California legislators agreed Thursday on a $6.5 billion proposal aimed at getting students back in classrooms this spring following months of closures because of the pandemic.

►Fran Goldman inspired the nation this week after she walked six miles round-trip through snow in Seattle to get her first shot of COVID-19 vaccine. What’s more, she did it at 90 years old.

►Life expectancy in the United States dropped to its lowest level in 15 years, and even lower for Black Americans and Latinos, during the first half of the coronavirus pandemic, a study released Thursday found.

►Vaccine shipment delays have been reported by news outlets in more than a third of the U.S. due to the winter storm walloping much of the country, forcing sites to close and cancel appointments due to a lack of shots.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 27.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 493,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 110.2 million cases and 2.44 million deaths. More than 73.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 57.7 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Want a worry-free Fourth of July? COVID-19 vaccinations need to speed up – and fast, says USA TODAY’s panel of vaccine experts. Read the full story.

Pregnant women are more susceptible to COVID-19, study shows

A recent study found pregnant women in Washington state were infected with COVID-19 at a 70% higher rate than others at similar ages. 

Additionally, rates of infection among pregnant women of color were far higher than researchers expected, according to the study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The study provides further evidence that pregnancy should be considered a high-risk health condition for COVID-19 vaccine priority, said senior author Dr. Kristina Adams Waldorf, an OB-GYN at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“Our data indicates that pregnant people did not avoid the pandemic as we hoped that they would, and communities of color bore the greatest burden,” Waldorf said.

While there’s little safety data on the COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women, Pfizer-BioNTech announced Thursday the start of its highly anticipated clinical trial to evaluate the vaccine in pregnant women.

Participants received their first doses in the U.S. The trial will enroll about 4,000 healthy pregnant women over 18 years old from countries in North America, South America, Europe and Africa.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Return to normalcy: So when is it: Summer? Fall? Christmas?

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout can appear chaotic and incomprehensible, with numbers that don’t add up and allocations that don’t make sense. Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, this week forecast enough vaccine supply for 300 million Americans will be available by the end of July. President Joe Biden and top public health aide Dr. Anthony Fauci talked about a return to normalcy, too  – at Christmas.

Vaccine distribution from the federal government has been booming since Biden took office, increasing 57% since Jan. 25. As of this week, it’s up to 13.5 million doses shipped per week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 70 million doses have been distributed. To meet Zients’ forecast, however, distribution from the federal government will need to ramp up appreciably. At the current level, it wouldn’t happen until autumn.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, is among experts trying to understand how figures from the CDC, the White House and the states fit together. He says he can’t. “None of us know what’s going on,” he said.

– Elizabeth Weise

Does COVID survivors’ blood plasma prevent severe illness, combat variants?

Survivors of COVID-19 who produce lots of disease-fighting antibodies carry within them a weapon in the fight to prevent severe complications from the coronavirus. Their antibody-rich blood plasma helps block the virus, when transfused early into newly diagnosed patients – and may even be helpful against infections with new variants of the coronavirus.

If an outbreak caused by a variant of the coronavirus occurs in a community, its survivors could become the medicine chest for others who fall sick, a New Jersey researcher said.

“They essentially have the treatment for the variants in their body,” said Dr. Michele Donato, lead researcher at Hackensack University Medical Center for a group of studies about COVID-19 survivors’ blood plasma. “The plasma contains the antibodies of the virus that’s in the community at that time.”

Recovered patients would be able to donate plasma after they have been symptom-free for two weeks, and the plasma would be ready to deploy in three days, she said. “Collection of plasma is a very low-tech, easy process.”

– Lindy Washburn,

Contributing: The Associated Press


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