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Coronavirus update: CDC predicts a big drop in cases, the unemployment line gets shorter

The Biden administration wants to make COVID-19 vaccines generic

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 32,562,841 (32,514,808)

Total U.S. deaths: 579,358 (578,524)

Total global cases: 155,373,584 (154,469,379)

Total global deaths: 3,245,391 (3,230,336)

CDC expects ‘sharp decline’ in COVID-19 cases by summer

The worst may be over. That’s the principal takeaway from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest projections for the track of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The agency said there could be a “sharp decline” in cases by July if the current pace of vaccinations keeps up.

The CDC said its optimistic projections are based on how many Americans have been vaccinated so far. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said there could be "an even faster decline if more people get vaccinated sooner." The daily rate of new cases is now at a seven-month low.

"The results remind us that we have a path out of this and models, once predicting grim news, now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring," Walensky said.

Jobless benefits claims hit new pandemic low

As the economy continues to reopen, there are fewer people heading for the unemployment line. The Labor Department reports that initial claims for jobless benefits fell again last week to 498,000 -- the lowest number since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

Claims dropped sharply from the previous week’s 590,000. The four-week moving average also moved lower, declining to 560,000, a decrease of 61,000 from the previous week's revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since March 14, 2020, just before the economy shut down.

While unemployment appears to be disappearing, businesses in a variety of industries complain that they can’t find enough workers. Restaurants are having a particularly hard time. Denny’s recently announced that it would not require franchisees to remain open 24-hours if they can’t fill the overnight shift.

U.S. backs waiver on vaccine patents

In a surprise move, the Biden administration said it would support a proposal from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive drug companies’ patents on COVID-19 vaccines. India and South Africa made the proposal, saying it would lead to a much-needed increase in supply.

"Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures," said U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. But she cautioned that the process could take some time.

Some have advocated negating Moderna’s intellectual property rights to its vaccine because it used some U.S. government funds in its research and development. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson did not use government funds.

Moderna says its vaccine is 96% effective with teens

Now that health officials are preparing to vaccinate younger Americans, how effective will the current vaccines be with that group? According to Moderna, trials with volunteers 12 to 17 years old show that its vaccine is 96% effective at providing protection from the virus.

The company made that revelation as it released its first-quarter earnings report. A day earlier, the company released preliminary data on its booster shot, showing promising results against the B.1.351 and P.1 variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

“New variants of concern continue to emerge around the world. And we believe that over the next six months, as the southern hemisphere enters the fall and winter, we could see more variants of concern emerge,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told analysts.

Experts: Treatments as important as vaccines

Even though the CDC now thinks cases of the coronavirus will be significantly lower by July, there will still be some cases -- especially since not everyone plans to be vaccinated. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers Jonathan Dordick and Robert Linhardt say that’s why it will be important to have plenty of antiviral treatments available.

They are currently developing a new antiviral approach that uses a decoy to trap the virus before it can infect a cell. They say the approach has shown promise against different types of infections.

In their most recent test of this viral decoy strategy on mammalian cells, the scientists say they demonstrated that a compound derived from edible seaweeds was highly effective and “substantially outperforms” remdesivir, the current standard antiviral used to combat COVID-19. 

Around the nation

  • California:CVS locations in California that are administering the vaccine are now providing the shots without an appointment. The retail pharmacy said walk-ins are now accepted at 1,115 locations in California, though people can still sign up for same-day scheduling at CVS.com.

  • Missouri: The pandemic has been hard on most occupations, but teachers in Missouri say they’ve felt so much stress that they’re considering a career change. A new survey of educators in the state shows that about 10% are considering moving into another line of work.

  • Washington: Gov. Jay Inslee has announced a two-week pause in the state’s phased system of reopening, citing data showing the state’s surge in cases has hit a plateau. “The decision was made in consultation with the Department of Health, and reflects current data suggesting Washington’s fourth wave has hit a plateau,” the governor said in a statement.

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