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Coronavirus update: A half-million deaths, Fauci says masks may be needed into 2022

Democrats are moving ahead on a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 28,139,690 (28,078,822)

Total U.S. deaths: 499,128 (497,670)

Total global cases: 111,555,751 (111,169,948)

Total global deaths: 2,469,417 (2,462,262)

U.S. death toll reaches 500,000

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus (COVID-19) reached 500,000 over the weekend according to various unofficial counts. The count maintained by Johns Hopkins University shows just under 500,000 deaths.

The milestone is occurring almost a year after the first U.S. death from the virus. The coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 2,462,000 people across the globe, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has, by far, suffered the most deaths of any country.

Ironically, the death toll reached that grim height just as cases of the virus appear to be in decline. In the U.S., cases have declined in the last four weeks in all but four states.

Fauci suggests masks may be needed for months

The rising optimism about the coronavirus got a dash of cold water over the weekend. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top White House adviser on COVID-19, said Americans may need to wear a mask in public into next year.

Making the rounds of network news talk shows on Sunday, Fauci took issue with an assertion by a Johns Hopkins researcher who suggested last week that the U.S. could reach herd immunity by April.

"We want to get that baseline really, really, really low before we start thinking that we're out of the woods," Fauci said.

Stimulus gets a step closer

Congress is a step closer to passing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package designed to help people impacted by the virus and boost the economy. The House Budget Committee has approved the measure and sent it to the floor for a vote, which could come by the end of the week.

The measure would send every American a direct payment of $1,400 while enhancing unemployment payments and sending money to state and local governments. President Biden said he’s willing to work with Republican critics but says the spending measure needs to be large to accomplish its goal.

“Let me ask them what would they have me cut, what would they have me leave out?” Biden asked.

NIH director slams ‘politicization of masks’

As cases and deaths from the coronavirus begin to decline, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said the toll would have been much lower if every American complied with mask mandates.

In an interview with Axios on HBO, Francis Collins said the facts showed that wearing masks in public reduced chances of infection. He charged Republicans of turning it into a costly political issue.

"A mask is nothing more than a life-saving medical device, and yet it got categorized in all sorts of other ways that were not factual, not scientific, and frankly dangerous,” he said. “And I think you could make a case that tens of thousands of people died as a result."

Unlocking the mystery of wide-ranging symptoms

Why do some COVID-19 patients have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, while others get very sick and even die? It’s a question that has challenged doctors for the last year of the pandemic.

Now scientists are offering some clues. They believe it is all determined by how the patient’s immune system interacts with the virus. Massachusetts researchers studied the antibodies generated by children and adults who had the coronavirus but had only mild symptoms.

The adults and children had almost identical immune responses to the virus. But severely ill adults had increased levels of IgA antibodies, which result in more cytokines. If there are too many IgA antibodies, scientists say there could be a “cytokine storm,” one of the symptoms of severe COVID-19.

Around the nation

  • New Jersey: The state has had its share of “glitches” in its vaccination program, but Gov. Phil Murphy says those bumps in the road are on their way to being fixed. "We've had some spirited challenges with our principal vendor," Murphy told CNN over the weekend. "It's in a better place this week, thank God."

  • Wisconsin: State health officials had some good news over the weekend. For the first time since November 22, there were no COVID-19 deaths reported. Officials also say 6 percent of the state’s population has been vaccinated.

  • Ohio: A statewide mask mandate remains in effect, but Gov. Mike DeWine has dropped the overnight curfew that he implemented last year. State health officials report that cases and hospitalizations are falling, but they urge residents not to let down their guard.

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