Coronavirus update: COVID-19 relief clears final hurdle, doctors now have another weapon

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As new cases decline, so do new jobless claims

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 29,158,244 (29,104,508)

Total U.S. deaths: 529,377 (527,950)

Total global cases: 118,222,254 (117,717,343)

Total global deaths: 2,623,286 (2,613,276)

House sends stimulus bill to the White House

A flood of money is headed for the U.S. economy with Wednesday’s House vote that gave final approval to a $1.9 trillion coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus bill. President Biden is expected to sign the measure Friday.

Consumers may be focused on the $1,400 payments that most Americans will receive, but there is so much other money in the bill that some in Congress who voted for it are concerned about the government’s capacity to get it out in a timely manner.

“Few Americans have benefited so far from the $25 billion in rental and utility assistance that lawmakers approved in December, housing experts said, and other programs to help workers and businesses pay their bills have not yet fully come online,” The Washington Post reported.

Study shows pneumonia vaccine works against COVID-19

The news regarding treatments for COVID-19 continues to get better. The latest news comes from researchers at Kaiser Permanente who show that a type of pneumonia vaccine, the PCV13 vaccine, may affect the course of COVID-19 for some older adult patients. The study was published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

"Kaiser Permanente members who received the PCV13 vaccine appeared to be diagnosed with COVID-19 less often, and when they were, they seemed to have less severe outcomes, overall," said the senior author Sara Tartof, PhD, MPH.

She also notes that patients who received PCV13 received some protection against COVID-19, while those who received PPSV23, another pneumococcal vaccine, did not.

New jobless claims continue to fall

Hiring is increasing as the economy begins to open up, and that trend is showing up in the weekly jobless claims numbers. New claims for unemployment benefits were down again last week.

The Labor Department reports that initial claims totaled 712,000. That’s close to the lowest weekly total since unemployment surged a year ago when the economy shut down.

The previous week's level was revised up by 9,000 from 745,000 to 754,000. The four-week moving average of claims was 759,000, a decrease of 34,000 from the previous week's revised average.

Despite warnings, many states are getting back to normal

With millions of Americans already vaccinated and serious COVID-19 cases dropping sharply, several states are dropping virus mitigation orders that have been in place for nearly a year. Texas and Mississippi were the first to announce that they are getting back to normal, but others have since followed suit.

Maryland this week announced steps to bolster businesses adversely affected by pandemic restrictions. Starting Friday, retailers and restaurants will be allowed to operate at normal capacities.

Connecticut, Arizona, West Virginia, and Wyoming have recently moved in the same direction. Federal health officials have expressed varying levels of alarm, warning that these states risk a new wave of COVID-19 infections.

Homeowners created their own ‘stimulus’

Over the last 12 months, Congress has pumped trillions of dollars into the economy to help people struggling with the economic effects of the pandemic. But a large group of Americans -- those who own homes -- were able to create their own stimulus by refinancing their mortgages and taking out cash.

Freddie Mac reports so-called “cash-out” refinancings hit their highest level last year since the financial crisis, with homeowners pulling nearly $153 billion in equity from their homes. They were able to do that because home prices surged last year while interest rates declined. 

“The support coming from home equity is unparalleled in helping smooth out the degradations from [COVID-19],” Susan Wachter, an economist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania told The Wall Street Journal. “For those who are in the position to refinance, it’s a major source of support.”

Around the nation

  • Wisconsin: A statewide mask mandate is scheduled to expire next week, but officials fear there could be a patchwork of local rules in its place that could create confusion. Some municipalities have said they will keep the order in place while others have indicated that they will let it expire.

  • Virginia: Some residents of suburban Richmond who went to their Kroger pharmacy to get a coronavirus vaccination received a shot of saline solution instead, officials say. Kroger executives called it “an honest mistake.” Kroger didn’t say how many people were affected.

  • Arizona: CVS Health officials are adding nine more COVID-19 vaccination sites across the state and will begin taking appointments on Saturday. Officials declined to name the additional stores to avoid having people crowd them in an effort to get the vaccine.

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