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Coronavirus update: Falling death rate, finger-pointing at the Trump administration

New York launches a ‘vaccination passport’

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Photo (c) Anton Petrus - Getty Images
Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 30,267,561 (30,219,071)

Total U.S. deaths: 549,364 (548,828)

Total global cases: 127,319,002 (126,810,891)

Total global deaths: 2,785,838 (2,778,682)

COVID-19 deaths are down for seven straight days

New cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) are rising in some states, but the nationwide death toll from the virus is falling as more members of the most vulnerable populations get vaccinated.

The COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University reports a weekly average of 970 virus deaths per day. That’s significant because the average daily death toll has remained below 1,000 for seven straight days for the first time since November.

A handful of states reported no new COVID-19 deaths on Sunday. It’s a far cry from January, when the death toll was averaging around 4,000 per day.

Birx: Most U.S. deaths could have been prevented

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is closing in on 550,000, but Dr. Deborah Birx, part of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 task force, says most of those deaths could have been prevented had the administration acted more forcefully early in the pandemic.

In an interview with CNN, Birx accused the administration of acting too slowly and failing to learn lessons from the first wave of infections last spring. She said more forceful social-distancing guidelines and shutdown regulations could have made a major difference.

“I look at it this way,” Birx said. “The first time we have an excuse. There were about a hundred thousand deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

New York becomes first state to offer ‘vaccination passport’

New York is rolling out a digital “vaccination passport” that state residents can load to their mobile device to offer proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted the passport as something that will make it easier to quickly reopen sporting and concert venues. 

The app, called the Excelsior Pass, is designed to help New Yorkers voluntarily show they have either been vaccinated or recently tested negative for the virus. 

Cuomo said Excelsior Pass can be used at theaters, stadiums, arenas, and wedding venues, all of which have largely been empty during the pandemic. He said Madison Square Garden and Times Union Center have already agreed to implement the system.

Antibody treatment credited with hospitalization decline

Health officials in South Carolina say the state has seen a significant decline in hospitalizations in the last month. They say vaccinating vulnerable populations has made a difference, but they also cite early treatment with monoclonal antibodies.

Monoclonal antibody treatments are currently approved only for emergency use, but doctors say they have proved to be highly effective when given to patients before they reach the critical stage. Data suggests that they have helped reduce hospitalizations and emergency room visits due to COVID-19. 

“Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-designed antibodies that can detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, and can help your immune system get rid of it,” said Dr. Jonathan Knoche, medical consultant to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. “Health care providers typically use these treatments for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms but who are at high risk for developing severe complications from the virus.”

Scientists find clue to COVID-19’s high infection rate

COVID-19 has always spread easily, and the newly discovered variants of the virus are even more contagious. Bioengineering researchers at Lehigh University think they now understand why.

The scientists have identified a previously unknown interaction between receptors in human cells and the spike, or "S," protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They say this new information could aid in the development of new strategies to block SARS-CoV-2 entry into human cells.

"Our goal was to characterize SARS-CoV-2 and study the protein-protein interactions during its invasion of human cells to provide more insights into the mechanisms that make this first step in its successful invasion process possible," said researcher Frank Zhang.

Around the nation

  • New Jersey: Starting today, a lot more people are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The new pool is based on occupation, not age. Among the workers who can now be vaccinated are those in food distribution and agriculture, warehousing and logistics, and hospitality.

  • Michigan: State health officials are expressing concern about a rise in new cases across the state, noting that children now account for a much larger portion of the infections. Testing is holding steady at around 35,000 diagnostic tests per day, with the seven-day positive rate holding above 10 percent as of Friday, the highest mark since December.

  • New Mexico: While some states are seeing increases in new coronavirus cases, the numbers are falling in New Mexico. In Sunday’s report, the state health department reported only 167 new cases and no deaths.

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