Coronavirus update: Booster shots appear more likely, layoffs continue to decline

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Kroger has dropped its mask mandate

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 33,029,091 (32,999,741)

Total U.S. deaths: 587,930 (587,245)

Total global cases: 165,015,132 (164,348,314)

Total global deaths: 3,420,173 (3,407,240)

Health officials considering the need for booster shots

Are you fully vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19)? That’s great, but now you need to start thinking about getting a booster shot next winter.

That’s the advice being given by health officials in the U.S. and the European Union, who are increasingly concerned that the virus could turn into a seasonal malady, one that needs annual protections -- just like the flu.

Most scientists are still on the fence about the necessity of that but say they are keeping close tabs on the virus and how it mutates. Of special concern are the variants that might resist some of the immunity from the initial shots.

Layoffs continue to fall

Despite the fact that April’s job creation was much less than desired, there continues to be evidence that the job market is mending. The Labor Department reports that initial claims for unemployment benefits totaled 444,000 last week, 34,000 fewer than the previous week and the smallest number since the pandemic began.

One reason for the falling numbers is the labor crunch that restaurants and bars are facing as they begin to resume full operations. Many are reporting difficulty in filling open positions.

Kroger takes off the mask

It’s been a week since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took nearly everyone by surprise and changed its guidance, saying fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks in most settings.

Some chain stores responded immediately, dropping their mask guidance. Kroger joined that group today when it issued an update saying fully vaccinated customers and associates would not be required to wear a mask while in the store.

“We have received feedback from and heard the valued opinions of thousands of associates regarding the CDC’s announcement,” the company said. “Based on the CDC’s science-based guidance and the input of our associates, we are updating our mask policy in a way that balances our values of safety and respect.” 

New rapid test detects the virus in 10 minutes

Despite progress in vaccinating the general population, health officials say there will continue to be a need for COVID-19 testing. Researchers at the University of Helsinki report that their newly developed test can detect the virus in as little as 10 minutes.

The test is based on a phenomenon known as time-resolved Förster resonance energy transfer (TR-FRET). This occurs when energy travels between two light-sensitive molecules when they are close enough to each other. It makes it possible to measure viral particles or the body's own proteins.

"We demonstrated in our study that a technique based on the TR-FRET phenomenon can be used to diagnose SARS-CoV-2 infections in clinical specimens,” said Jussi Hepojoki, one of the researchers. She noted that the antigen test detected almost all specimens containing the virus.

Salma Hayek’s close call

A number of celebrities have battled COVID-19 over the last year, and a small number have died. Actress Salma Hayek reports that she came close to falling into that category.

In an interview with Variety, Hayek said she was diagnosed with the virus during the early days of the pandemic and became very ill. “My doctor begged me to go to the hospital because it was so bad,” she said.

But rather than seek hospital treatment, Hayek said she isolated herself at home for another seven weeks. At one point, she said she was on oxygen to assist with her breathing.

Around the nation

  • Michigan: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has kept COVID-19 restrictions in place but now appears ready to relax them a bit. “With the CDC recommending that fully vaccinated people can safely return to normal life, we feel confident that our state can begin taking even greater steps to get back to normal now that a majority of Michiganders have received their vaccine,” a spokesman for the governor said in a statement. “I would expect an announcement in the coming days or week.”

  • Vermont: In a sign that supplies of COVID-19 vaccines now surpass demand, most states have begun administering doses without an appointment. The Vermont Health Department has gone one step farther by opening vaccinations to non-state residents.

  • California: New cases of the coronavirus have plunged throughout the state, with three counties reporting no new cases in weeks. Officials in Sacramento are now reportedly drawing up rules for eliminating masks and social distancing requirements in workplaces.

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