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May 20 coronavirus news

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What you need to know

  • The European Union will begin to ease travel restrictions to the bloc, with the EU Council agreeing on measures to allow fully vaccinated foreign visitors in. 
  • Indian states are facing shortages of a drug used to treat black fungus, a rare and potentially fatal infection that is increasingly being detected in Covid-19 patients.
  • Meanwhile, the US plans to send 20 million more doses of Covid-19 vaccines overseas, on top of 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

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34 Posts

Miami-Dade schools reinstate outdoor mask policy after backlash from teachers' union

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho speaks during a news conference on Thursday, May 20.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools paused its plans to relax outdoor masking rules for the rest of the school year after backlash from the teachers’ union, which claimed that any changes needed to be agreed upon by them first.

On Tuesday, the school district tweeted from its official account that, “Effective immediately, starting tomorrow, students engaging in outdoor activities such as physical education or recess during the school day, will not be required to wear masks.”

The decision came with just 15 school days left in the year, which ends on June 9.

The response from the teachers union was swift. In a statement a few hours after the tweet, United Teachers of Dade (UTD) Karla Hernández-Mats stressed how few days are left in the school year and that “our educators believe it would be more prudent and less disruptive to have our students continue wearing face masks on our school campuses.”

During a school board meeting on Wednesday, UTD Vice President Antonio White went further, saying he felt “blindsided” by the new policy and that the UTD agreement with the school district “clearly states that all employees, students and visitors in worksites, shall be required to wear face coverings” and that “this language is not something that can be unilaterally changed.” 

In response, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the policy was “based on a lot of commentary from a lot of parents, and in some cases, a lot of students, and even in some cases teachers” and that the district’s task force of public health experts and medical experts unanimously signed off on it – but that they have paused implementation of the policy to discuss the policy with the union.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Carvalho said those conversations were still ongoing and that “we hope to move forward with a recommendation from the task force for the benefit of our students and our teachers.” 

Meanwhile, on Thursday afternoon the tweets with the new policy were deleted.

Rhode Island governor moves state's reopening to Friday

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee announced the state’s Covid-19 reopening guidelines will now be effective May 21, a week earlier than originally planned, according to a release from the governor’s office.

“The number of Rhode Islanders fully vaccinated and those with at least one dose — more than 400,000 Rhode Islanders — puts the Ocean State in a strong position to reopen safely on May 21,” McKee said. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reset Rhode Island and I trust that our business community and neighbors will respond respectfully and courteously as we navigate this next phase.”

Starting Friday, no physical distancing will be required, and restrictions will be lifted on indoor dining, bars, houses of worship, retail, gyms, offices, pools, and casinos. 

According to the release, establishments will be allowed to, but are not required to, supplement the new guidelines with their own rules regarding mask wearing, proof of vaccination, testing, and other mitigations.

McKee said mask requirements will remain in place for all youth sports, indoor and outdoor, though the policy will be reassessed on July 1. Adult sports won’t have restrictions and will follow the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance.

Rhode Island is maintaining status quo regarding Covid-19 guidelines in three key sectors, including health care congregate care, and youth and school-based events, McKee said.

Holland America restarts cruises from Seattle to Alaska in July

The Holland America Line Inc. Noordham cruise ship passes through the Tarr Inlet in Glacier Bay, Alaska, on Friday, July 12, 2019.

Holland America Line says it will begin offering cruises from Seattle to Alaska again starting July 24. Their plans are contingent on approval from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We feel like it’s now or never to give ourselves a chance to bring cruising back to Alaska this year,” Holland America Line president Gus Antorcha said in a statement.

Holland America’s plans follow passage of a federal law that temporarily suspends a requirement for Alaska-bound cruise ships to stop in Canada. That country is still banning cruise travel, effectively prohibiting US cruises to Alaska without the waiver. The measure passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support.

Holland America says it will have 10 Alaska cruises on the Nieuw Amsterdam departing from Seattle this year, with the last on Oct. 2. Stops will include Juneau and Ketchikan.

The cruise line says it expect regular dining service and entertainment to be available in the cruises, but all passengers must be fully vaccinated, and there may be social distancing requirements.

Washington state will close half of its mass vaccination sites next week

Washington National Guard personnel prepare to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to patients at Town Toyota Center on January 26, in Wenatchee, Washington.

The Washington state Department of Health announced Thursday that two of its four Covid-19 mass vaccination sites will close on May 28. The state will focus instead on mobile vaccine clinics.

“This transition isn’t closing a door to vaccine opportunity but opening several new ones that will allow for more equitable vaccine access in the future,” Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said in a statement.

Closing on May 28 are vaccination sites in Ridgefield and Kennewick, while a site in Wenatchee will transition to the control of the local health district. The state’s mass vaccination site in Spokane will remain open.

“In areas where mass vaccination sites are closing, there will still be multiple vaccine providers nearby that will continue to administer the COVID-19 vaccine,” the Department of Health said in a news release.

J&J continues to investigate the need and timing for a booster for its Covid-19 vaccine

Johnson & Johnson said Thursday that it continues to investigate a potential booster for its Covid-19 vaccine.

“Ensuring long-term, durable protection against COVID-19 will be essential in curbing the pandemic. We have ongoing and planned trials that will aid our assessment of the need for, and timing of, booster doses of our vaccine,” according to an emailed statement J&J sent to CNN on Thursday. 

The J&J Covid-19 vaccine, along with Pfizer, Moderna, and four others, are being tested as a seasonal booster in a study called Cov-Boost being conducted by the UK’s National Institute for Health Research and the University of Southhampton. 

“Janssen is pleased to be contributing to the Cov-Boost clinical trial, the first study to provide vital data on the use of different vaccines as a booster to further protect against COVID-19 and the new variants of concern,” the J&J statement said.

Here are the latest numbers on severe breakthrough Covid-19 cases from the CDC

As of May 10, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had received reports of 1,359 hospitalized or fatal Covid-19 cases among fully vaccinated people. Such cases are rare; at that time, more than 115 million people in the United States were full vaccinated.

Among those 1,359 severe breakthrough cases, 1,136 – 84% – were hospitalized and 223 – 16% – were fatal. The CDC said 1,080 – 79% – were among people 65 and older. The reports came from 46 US states and territories.

As of mid-May, CDC is no longer publishing data on all Covid-19 breakthrough cases; only severe cases that result in hospitalization and death will be detailed on the CDC’s website. The definition of a breakthrough case – a confirmed Covid-19 case at least two weeks after a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines or a single dose of  the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – hasn’t changed. 

The CDC says the number of Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough infections is likely an undercount and data may not be complete, but the reports can help identify patterns.

“Vaccine breakthrough cases occur in only a small percentage of vaccinated people,” the agency notes. “To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in the case demographics or vaccine characteristics among people with reported vaccine breakthrough infections.”

Fauci: "We don't know" when a booster vaccine may be needed

The timeline for needing a booster shot is currently unclear, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Despite predictions that a booster may be warranted within a year, the bottom line: “We don’t know,” Fauci told CNN Thursday.

His comments echoed ones he made earlier in the day to The Washington Post during a live event, when he said a rise in breakthrough infections may be the “trigger” for booster vaccinations, but it’s difficult to map out when that may happen.

“We’re preparing for the eventuality that we might need boosters, but I think we’ve got to be careful not to let the people know that inevitably, X number of months from now, everyone’s going to need a booster. That’s just not the case,” Fauci said at the event. “We may not need it for quite a while.”

He also told the Post that immunity from vaccines may help avoid a surge in cases later this year.

If the US reaches President Biden’s goal of 70% of adults receiving their first shot by July 4, that may prevent cases from surging, “provided we continue to get people vaccinated at the rate we have now,” he said.

“I don’t think we should be that concerned right now about how long they’re effective,” Fauci said. “I think they will be effective long enough that we will get to the point where we are not going to be necessarily worrying about a surge.”

These comments appear to contrast those made during an Axios interview Wednesday, when he said a booster could be warranted within a year’s time. Scientists at a number of companies that make Covid-19 vaccines have also predicted needing boosters within the same time frame – but the scientific community is not in widespread agreement on this. 

“We’re making extrapolations” from incomplete data, Fauci explained to The Washington Post. 

So far, studies have shown that mRNA vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna – maintain more than 90% efficacy six months after getting vaccinated. And scientists say it’s likely much longer; this is just as far as the data take us.

Other studies have looked at antibodies in the lab. While a decline is expected over time, Fauci told the Post “the steepness of that slope is unclear right now.”

Experts say it is also unclear how these antibody levels correlate with real-world immunity, and to what extent other parts of the immune system – such as T cells – could factor into this protection.

Eiffel Tower will reopen on July 16

The Eiffel Tower will reopen to the public on July 16, according to the official Eiffel Tower website.

Visitors will be able to book online from June 1, according to the website.

The latest: On Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex said France will make all adults eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations from starting May 31.

More than 21.5 million French people — 41% of the adult population — have gotten at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the latest health ministry data released Wednesday.

Vaccination rates rise in Ohio after Vax-a-Million lottery announcement, health officials say

Covid-19 vaccination rates in Ohio rose in one week, following the announcement of the Vax-a-Million lottery, according to a news release from the state’s Department of Health.

“The Vax-a-Million campaign has helped drive an increase in vaccination rates among Ohioans 16 and older by more than 28%” since it was announced on May 13, according to the release.

Vaccinations for that age group had “dropped by 25% the weekend of May 7 to May 10, compared to the weekend of April 30 to May 3,” the release said. Vaccination rates “increased by 28% for the same age group from May 14 to May 17,” according to the release.

“This dramatic increase in vaccinations indicates that the Vax-a-Million drawing has been impactful in creating momentum for vaccinations throughout Ohio,” said Stephanie McCloud, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

“We are grateful that the drawings are helping spur Ohioans to take this important measure to protect their health, their loved ones, and their community. Vaccines are our best tool to return to the lives we remember from before the pandemic,” said McCloud.

Ohioans aged 18 or older who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine are eligible to win one of five $1 million prizes once they opt into the program, CNN reported.

The first lottery drawing will be on May 24.

Average daily pace of Covid-19 vaccinations down 46% from peak in April, CDC data shows

A worker from the University of Alabama at Birmingham waits for patients to arrive on Tuesday, May 18, at a mass COVID-19 immunization site in Hoover, Alabama, where declining demand prompted a shutdown.

The average daily pace of coronavirus vaccinations is down almost 50% from its April peak, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows.

Over the past week, about 1.8 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered each day, a 46% drop from the peak rate of nearly 3.4 million doses per day in mid-April, according to CDC data published Thursday.

About 2.1 million new doses have been reported administered since Wednesday, bringing the total to 279,397,250 doses administered. That’s about 79% of the 351,955,515 total doses delivered.

More than 160 million people – about 48% of the US population – have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, and nearly 127 million people – about 38% of the US population – is fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.

Maine is the first state to have vaccinated more than half of its residents. 

Note: Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been administered on the day reported.

Maryland governor announces $2 million in lottery prize money for vaccinated residents

Starting next Tuesday, Maryland Lottery will randomly select and award a $40,000 prize to a vaccinated Marylander every single day, Gov. Larry Hogan announced today.

The state will continue the drawing for 40 straight days through July 3 and on the Fourth of July, a final drawing will be held to award one vaccinated Marylander a grand prize of $400,000. 

“So it’s a total of $2 million in prize money for a vaccinated Marylander,” Hogan said. “Entry is very simple – all you have to do is get vaccinated for Covid-19 here in Maryland, be a Maryland residents and be 18 or older. Anyone 18 and older who has already been vaccinated for Covid-19 in the state of Maryland, at any time, is also eligible for these prizes and will automatically be entered to win.”

Asked if the state took direction from Ohio’s Covid-19 vaccine lottery drawing, Hogan said Maryland had been talking about doing it for a while.

“They’re in a little bit different situation,” Hogan said. “For them it was sort of a Hail Mary touchdown pass, to try to get their numbers up. For us, we’re sort of cleaning up and we’re getting close to the goal line and this, we think, is going to push us over the edge.”

As of today, the state of Maryland has administered more than 5.7 million Covid-19 vaccines. According to the governor, Maryland has vaccinated more than 87% of all residents over 65, and more than 67% of all Marylanders 18 and older. 

“So remember Maryland – get your shot for a shot to win,” Hogan said.

Biden: There has been a "shocking" rise in incidents of hate against Asian Americans during Covid-19 pandemic 

President Biden noted the “shocking” rise in documented incidents of hate against Asian Americans during the pandemic while delivering remarks before signing the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act into law at the White House.

Biden recalled his conversations with the Asian American community in Atlanta following the deadly spa shootings in March.

“We heard about their pain, their fear, anger, and all that existed in the community and the feelings were, about those feelings, that they felt invisible and not seen. We heard how too many Asian Americans have been waking up each morning this past year, genuinely, genuinely, fearing for their safety, just opening the door and walking down the street. And safety for their loved ones. The moms and dads who, when they let their kids out the door to go to school, were worried. Attacked, blamed, scapegoated, harassed during this pandemic,” Biden said.

Biden said the fears him and Vice President Kamala Harris heard in Atlanta are similar to those they are hearing from across the country.

“Documented incidents of hate against Asian Americans has seen a shocking spike, as the vice president has outlined at the front of her comments. Let alone, let alone, the ones that have never been reported. Gut-wrenching attacks on some of the most vulnerable people in our nation, the elderly, low wage workers, women, brutally attacked simply by walking outside or waiting for a bus. Asian American women suffered twice as many incidents of harassment and violence as Asian American men,” he said.

Biden vowed that his administration would commit to stopping hatred and bias.

“All of this hate hides in plain sight. It hides in plain sight. And too often, it is met with silence, silence by the media, silence by our politics, and silence by our history… We are committed to stop the hatred and the bias,” the President said.

Watch Biden give the remarks:

01:11

Biden signs bill to counter rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during Covid-19 pandemic 

President Biden signed a bill into law that’s aimed at countering a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden, who previously urged Congress to pass the legislation, thanked lawmakers for their support of the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act.

“Today, I can say that because of all of you, many of you sitting right in front of me, you’ve taken that first step, this important step,” Biden said in White House remarks. The President noted that documented incidents of hate against Asian Americans has seen “a shocking spike.”

Vice President Kamala Harris said the bill brings the country “one step closer to stopping hate, not only for Asian Americans, but for all Americans.”

“It will expedite the Justice Department’s review of hate crimes, every type of hate crime,” Harris said, adding that Biden is determine to give hate “no safe harbor.”

Harris noted, however, that “our work will not be done” following the bill signing

“Here’s the truth: racism exists in America, xenophobia exists in America, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia — it all exists. And so, the work to address injustice wherever it exists, remains the work ahead,” Harris said.

Here’s what the legislation signed by Biden will do:

  • It will create a new position at the Justice Department to expedite review of potential Covid-19-related hate crimes and incidents reported at the federal, state or local level.
  • It will direct the Justice Department and Health and Human Services to work with community-based organizations to issue guidance raising awareness of hate crimes during the pandemic, and would require the attorney general to issue guidance to work with state and local law enforcement agencies to establish online reporting of them.

The legislation passed in the Senate with an overwhelming 94-1 vote in April. And earlier this month, the House voted 364-62, with all the no votes being Republicans. The bill was introduced by New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng and Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono.

Reported hate crimes against Asians in 16 of the US’ largest cities and counties are up 164% since this time last year, according to a recent study from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State University San Bernardino.

Separately, Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks reports of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans, says it has received more than 6,000 firsthand complaints since last year. The group began tracking violence and harassment on March 19 last year as more Asian Americans were verbally and physically assaulted while erroneously being blamed for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read more about the law here.

Watch Biden sign the bill into law:

01:04

US continues to limit nonessential travel to Canada and Mexico

The Biden administration is extending nonessential travel restrictions along the US northern and southern borders, the Department of Homeland Security said on Thursday. 

“To fight #COVID19 spread and protect our citizens, the U.S. is continuing restrictions on non-essential travel at land borders through June 21, while allowing essential trade & travel. We’re working closely with Canada & Mexico to safely ease restrictions as conditions improve,” the agency tweeted.  

The US has been limiting nonessential travel along both borders since the start of the pandemic and extending those restrictions on a monthly basis. The restrictions don’t apply to cross-border trade, US citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as people traveling for medical purposes or to attend school, among others.

EU vaccine passports expected to take effect on July 1

The European Union Covid-19 vaccine certificates should take effect on July 1, the chair of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, Juan Lopez Aguilar, said at a news conference in Brussels on Thursday.

“It’s going to be called EU Digital COVID Certificate, a unified certificate,” Lopez Aguilar said. “It’s a better alternative than the absence of this certificate, which will create a new legal safeguard, which we hope will provide an incentive to trust, not just between member states, but also in citizens over the possibility of starting to enjoy the free circulation this summer, as the vaccination process advances.”

Lopez Aguilar said the deal guaranteed that European citizens’ rights and would help enact a common travel policy within the European Union, in opposition to the current system where each state acts unilaterally.

The European Covid-19 vaccine certificate is expected to help reopen borders within the common European travel area and member states will only be allowed to reimpose travel restrictions in exceptional circumstances, where the epidemiological situation warrants it.

Those measures must be announced 48 hours before being implemented, Lopez Aguilar said.

Lopez Aguilar also said the three European bodies had agreed to mobilize an additional 35 million euros ($42 million dollars) to cut the cost of antigen tests, to make them more affordable, while the need, especially in order to travel, remains high. An additional 100 million euros ($122 million dollars) will be made available to member states to offset the costs of PCR tests, while they continue to be needed.

EU bodies reach deal on Covid-19 vaccine passport

The European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission have reached an “informal agreement” for the implementation of Covid-19 vaccine certificates, which are expected to facilitate travel inside the bloc.

“Parliament, Council and Commission negotiators have reached an informal agreement on the proposal for the EU Digital Covid Certificate, which will make traveling during the pandemic easier and safer,” the European Parliament said on its official twitter account, without revealing additional details. 

Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa, whose country currently heads the European Union presidency, said he welcomed the deal. 

“The certificate will provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19, of a negative test result or of recovery from #COVID19,” Costa tweeted. “Although not a precondition for free movement, it will facilitate it and contribute to the European economic recovery.”

White House leaves possibility open to using unused Covid-19 relief money for infrastructure 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki left the door open to a proposal from West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito that unused Covid-19 relief funds could be used to pay for the administration’s multi-trillion dollar infrastructure proposal.

“The President’s bottom line, as you’ve heard me say a few times before, is that he does not want to raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year,” Psaki told reporters Thursday. “We certainly, in that scenario, would need to assess whether these funds are needed, and not take them away from fighting the pandemic that we continue to battle every day.”

Capito told reporters on Capitol Hill “progress” was made in Tuesday afternoon’s infrastructure meeting between GOP senators and Biden officials, but they “still got a ways to go.” 

“They’re digesting what we proposed and I think the plan is for them to react to that,” she said Tuesday.

Michigan set to ease Covid-19 restrictions in June with remaining rules to end in July 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday announced all outdoor capacity limits across the state will be lifted effective June 1, and indoor capacity limits will increase to 50%. Nearly all Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted in July, the governor said. 

“On July 1, that is when we will take our final step. We will lift the broad mask and gatherings order and will no longer impose broad mitigation measures during the pandemic, unless of course, unanticipated circumstances arise,” Whitmer said.

“I want to be clear about the fact that businesses and workplaces are well within their rights to require masks as patrons go in,” she said. “There will ultimately come a day when masks will be distant memories – maybe in boxes in our basements, but until then, we’ve got to transition back to normalcy together.” 

According to Whitmer, Michigan has administered almost 7.9 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to more than 4.6 million Michiganders ages 16 and up with 57% of [the] eligible population receiving at least one dose. 

“Cases and test positivity have declined for five straight weeks [and] hospitalizations have declined for three weeks in a row,” the governor said.

Most nursing homes had multiple Covid-19 outbreaks that lasted for weeks, analysis found

US nursing homes experienced an average of three Covid-19 outbreaks, with the longest outbreaks lasting for an average of more than nine weeks, according to a report published Wednesday by the US Government Accountability Office.  

The GAO analyzed data submitted to the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from May 2020 through January 2021 for more than 13,000 nursing homes and representing about 88% of CMS-certified nursing homes. An outbreak is defined as starting the week a nursing home reports a new case in a resident or staff member and ends when there have been no new cases in two consecutive weeks. 

About 85% of the nursing homes analyzed experienced at least one outbreak that lasted for more than a month and more than a quarter experienced at least one outbreak that lasted three months or longer.

Only 64 nursing homes – less than 1% – had no Covid-19 outbreak, and another 761 nursing homes – about 6% – had only one outbreak during the eight months analyzed.

The length of outbreaks varied by state, the GAO report found. Outbreaks lasting more than a month were most common in Alabama, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Carolina and Tennessee and least common in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. 

The report also found that most outbreaks – about 66% – began with a staff member that tested positive, and nursing homes with more beds were more likely to have outbreaks that lasted longer than a month. 

Covid-19 has disproportionately affected nursing home residents, but CMS data shows that new Covid-19 cases and deaths have decreased dramatically since vaccinations began. 

Brazil detects first case of coronavirus variant first found in India

The first official case of the coronavirus variant first found in India (B.1.617.2) has now been detected in Brazil, Maranhao state health secretary Carlos Lula announced Thursday.

Six crew members of the Shandong da Zhi ship, which were traveling from South Africa, tested positive for the B.1.617.2 variant. One of the crew is being treated at a private hospital in Sao Luis, Maranhao state’s capital.

According to the secretary, 14 other crew members are infected with Covid-19 and remain on the ship, two with mild symptoms and 12 asymptomatic. Another nine passengers were not diagnosed with coronavirus.

“I had contact with the health security secretary of the health ministry and minister Marcelo Queiroga in the morning. The crew is isolated, and the ship is not allowed to dock,” said Lula, who is also president of Conass (National Council of Health Secretaries), in a news conference.

The secretary also informed that about one hundred people had contact with the crew who tested positive. They will be tested, monitored, and, if necessary, isolated.

Pelosi says Congress mask rules will stay in place until more members are vaccinated

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said it’s “unfortunate” that some members of Congress have not yet been vaccinated against Covid-19 and defended the congressional mask rules, which are still in place despite the updated guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the CDC now says fully vaccinated people can go maskless in most situations, Pelosi said that until more members of Congress are vaccinated, the chamber can not meet without masks.

“It is unfortunate that a large number of people in the Congress have refused to be vaccinated — or I don’t know what it is, I don’t know, refused or have been vaccinated and don’t want to to admit — I don’t know what that is, because I shouldn’t know, it’s their personal business,” Pelosi said at a news conference today. “As the doctor said, until they are vaccinated, we cannot have meetings without masks.”

She added:

Some context: A CNN survey of Capitol Hill last week found Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have a 100% vaccination rate against Covid-19, significantly outpacing Republicans in the House and Senate and illustrating the partisan divide over the pandemic.

For Republicans, at least 44.8% of House members are vaccinated and at least 92% of senators are, CNN found.

Argentina reports record number of Covid-19 cases as new restrictions are set to begin

Argentina reported a new daily record of coronavirus cases Wednesday for the second day in a row as President Alberto Fernández is set to implement new restrictions this weekend. 

Fernandez is continuing meetings with governors Thursday to work out the details of new measures, which are expected to last two to three weeks, state news agency Telam reported. On Wednesday, he also met with 12 governors and epidemiologists.

The health ministry reported at least 39,652 new cases Wednesday for a total of 3,411,160 cases so far in the pandemic. It also reported at least 494 new deaths, with a total of 72,265 deaths since the pandemic began.

According to government data, 8,348,823 people in the country have received one dose of a Covid vaccine and 2,128,974 have received both.

Iowa governor signs bill banning mask mandates in schools and businesses 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she signed HF 847, a bill that prevents mask mandates in K-12 schools and stops cities and counties from mandating masks in businesses.  

“The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Reynolds said in a news release about the legislation.

The announcemnbet comes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week released new guidelines that fully vaccinated people can take off their masks in nearly all settings.

UK defends allowing direct flights from India as variant cases rise 28% in 2 days

Passengers arriving from India are escorted through Heathrow airport on April 23, in London.

The United Kingdom defended its continuation of direct flights from India despite a 28% rise in cases of the B1.617.2 variant in two days.

The UK “cannot ban its own citizens from returning home,” Transport Minister Grant Shapps told Sky News Thursday, adding that all passengers on Indian flights are either British or Irish citizens or permanent residence holders with the right of abode in the British Isles. 
A ban could prompt people to “spread amongst many other flights,” he added, consequently “making it harder to carry out the mandatory hotel quarantine.”

India was added to the UK’s highest-risk red country list on April 23 in order to “protect the country against a new variant of coronavirus (COVID-19) and against other existing variants,” according to a news release from the Department of Transport.

About 2,967 cases of the B1.617.2 variant, which was first detected in India, have now been identified in the UK, Health Minister Matt Hancock told the House of Commons Wednesday. This represents a 28% increase on the 2,323 cases reported Monday.

The transport minister reiterated his calls for UK citizens not to visit amber or red list countries for vacations, emphasizing that travel to these countries is only for essential purposes. 

He said there was a “heck of a lot of hassle” involved in traveling to an amber country, such as France or Italy, citing the need for three Covid tests upon return and the completion of a five-day home quarantine.

“We’re not at the stage of, you know, saying to people: ‘Go to those places on holiday.’ In fact, please don’t,” he added.

Taiwan reports 295 new Covid-19 cases as island battles its worst outbreak

People line up at a rapid Covid-19 testing center in Wanhua district in Taipei, Taiwan, on May 19.

Taiwan reported 295 new Covid-19 infections Thursday, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said in a news conference.

Among the cases, 286 were locally transmitted, said Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung. A total of 87 of those cases were reported in the capital, Taipei, while 157 were reported in the surrounding New Taipei City.

As of Thursday, Taiwan has reported 2,825 total Covid-19 cases, including 1,669 locally transmitted infections, the CECC said.

Earlier on Thursday, the CECC said in another news conference that anyone who spreads disinformation about the Covid-19 epidemic in Taiwan could face up to three years in prison and a fine equivalent to $107,000.

Taiwan had been among the safest spots on the planet when it came to coronavirus, with life on the island proceeding much as usual, until a sudden outbreak this month more than doubled the number of cases reported since the pandemic began.

India grapples with "black fungus" drug shortage as cases rise among Covid-19 patients

Several Indian states are facing shortages of a drug used to treat black fungus, a rare and potentially fatal infection that is increasingly being detected in Covid-19 patients, health authorities in the country have warned.

The infection, known by doctors as mucormycosis, had been seen in India before the pandemic, but cases are mounting rapidly in coronavirus patients and those who have recently recovered. It is caused by mold found in wet environments and can attack the respiratory tract, particularly of those with compromised immune systems.

At least 90 people have died of black fungus in the western state of Maharashtra, which includes the bustling financial center Mumbai and has been hit hard by the pandemic, said the state’s health minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday. At least 800 people are currently hospitalized with the infection.

Some 2,000 cases have so far been recorded, according to local health officials.

The state of Rajasthan, which has also reported cases of black fungus, has declared it an epidemic and a “notifiable disease.” Two other states, Haryana and Telangana, have also declared it a notifiable disease, to be reported to the central Indian government.

Some 115 cases were found in Haryana and at least 150 in Telangana, according to state officials.

Black fungus cases have also been found in New Delhi, according to Padma Srivastava, head of the department of neurology at the All India Institute Of Medical Sciences in the capital.

“Every single day in emergency it is average 20 and above (cases reported),” Srivastava told local media on Wednesday, adding that a separate ward had been created for black fungus patients at the hospital.

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Black Fungus, or mucormycosis, is caused by a fungus named mucor, which is found on wet surfaces.

India grapples with 'black fungus' drug shortage as cases rise among Covid-19 patients

Destruction of Gaza's Covid-19 lab poses high risk of virus spreading, say Palestinian health officials

A medical worker works at the Rimal Clinic in Gaza on April 28.

Gaza’s main Covid-19 laboratory, the Rimal clinic, is unable to carry out coronavirus testing after being destroyed by Israeli airstrikes, the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health said, warning the situation “certainly poses a high risk of the spread of the virus.”

The ministry issued the warning in a statement about the effect of Israeli airstrikes on medical facilities in Gaza.

“A number of health facilities (21), including the MOH administrative complex and Rimal clinic, have been targeted or affected by the airstrikes. Thus, COVID-19 laboratory testing services, that are solely provided at the MOH Central Laboratory in Rimal clinic, have been completely ceased, which certainly poses high risks of widespread of the virus,” the ministry said Wednesday.

The Rimal clinic was damaged by Israeli airstrikes on Monday, Hamas authorities said. Video from the scene showed windows blown out in the building. At the time, Hamas referred to the clinic as one of Gaza’s main coronavirus testing centers.

A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces told CNN on Tuesday that it targeted the main operations center of the Hamas internal security forces in the Rimal neighborhood, and that the target building was close to the clinic.

The Ministry of Health statement called UN agencies and humanitarian organizations “to protect health teams and establishments, as well as to advance pressure on the Israeli side to allow entry of critically needed medical supplies into the Gaza Strip ASAP.”

Israel – which controls two entry points into Gaza – briefly opened the crossings on Tuesday, but said it closed them in response to mortar fire from the territory towards Israel.

On Wednesday, mortars were again fired from Gaza as a shipment of aid from Jordan, including medical supplies, was passing through the Kerem Shalom crossing, prompting Israel again to close the crossing, Israeli authorities said. The shipment did not get through.

1.5 million people in Nepal unable to get second Covid-19 vaccine dose as India curbs exports

A health worker inoculates a man with the Covishield vaccine at a health post near Lukla on April 23 in Nepal.

A total of 1.5 million people in Nepal are not able to get their second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as the country’s stocks run out and supply prospects have become clouded by India’s curb on vaccine exports.

Dr. Samir Adhikari, deputy spokesperson for Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population, said that among them, 1.3 million are elderly.

Nepal started its vaccination drive in January with 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot provided by India, which were administered to frontline health care workers.

The country later procured 2 million more doses of the AstraZeneca shots from the Serum Institute of India (SII), but so far only 1 million were received, which were administered to people above age 65 as first doses.

The SII had yet to deliver the remaining 1 million shots that Nepal was expecting to receive by the end of April and administer as second doses to the elderly in May, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Health and Population, Dr. Jageshwor Gautam said.

The SII said in a statement on Tuesday that it hoped to start delivering to COVAX and other countries by the end of this year.

“We are in communication with Indian side through diplomatic channel to get vaccines at the earliest possible date,” Gautam said adding there is no date yet for when the supply of vaccines will be resumed.

Gautam added Nepal has around 50,000 to 60,000 doses of Covishield – the Indian manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine – in storage for emergency purpose.