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Coronavirus update: Government offers more free COVID-19 tests

Hospitals still feel overwhelmed

COVID-19 home test
Photo (c) Images By Tang Ming Tung - Getty Images
COVID-19 ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 79,099,412 (79,048,702)

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 952,759 (950,684)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 439,214,303 (437,422,661)

Total ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 5,968,316 (5,959,306)‌

Government offers more free tests

Learning to live with COVID-19 may mean more frequent tests to confirm whether those sniffles are a common cold or the virus. President Biden used last night’s State of the Union Address to announce that Americans can order more free tests starting next week.

"Even if you already ordered free tests, tonight, I am announcing that you can order more from covidtests.gov starting next week," Biden said. He reported that the government has already made hundreds of millions of tests available for free.

When distribution began in January, households were limited to four free tests. Under the expansion, households will be able to order four additional tests.

Many hospitals still struggle despite declining cases

New cases of COVID-19 are declining in nearly every part of the country, but that hasn’t let hospitals off the hook; many still struggle under large caseloads.

“I think people are under the misconception that because COVID has peaked and it’s on the downturn that staffing issues will go away,” Louise Dobbins, director of capacity management for Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, told the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Much of the problem is caused by staff shortages. A third or more of hospitals in 15 states reported a critical staffing shortage last month, according to the American Hospital Association.

CDC estimates 140 million infections in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an estimate stating that it believes there have been 140 million COVID-19 infections in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. That’s considerably higher than the unofficial count maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

The estimate stems from an analysis of blood samples that track coronavirus antibodies produced by an infection rather than a vaccination. It says the higher number is not a surprise since many mild and asymptomatic cases go unreported.

By the CDC’s estimate, about 43% of the U.S. population has had the virus as of late January, including almost 60% of children up to age 18. The largest percentage of cases likely occurred among Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. 

Around the nation

  • Louisiana: The streets of the French Quarter were jammed Tuesday as New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras, the first full-tilt celebration since the pandemic began. The celebrations were scaled back somewhat in 2020, but the city suffered a COVID-19 outbreak anyway. The celebration was modified last year, with no spectators on the parade routes.

  • Utah: COVID-19 case numbers are falling across the state, but Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, stated that residents should still mask up in some situations. “If you enter a business and they require or recommend masks, please respect this and wear a mask; they may have a colleague at high risk who needs that additional protection,” Dunn said. 

  • Virginia: As he released an updated action plan, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said his state will continue to offer vaccination events. However, he noted that things need to start getting back to normal. “As we have learned to live with the coronavirus pandemic over the past two years, we know that we can protect lives and livelihoods,” he said. “With increased immunity to Omicron, and a decline in cases and hospitalizations, now is the time to chart a path to normalcy.”

  • Michigan: Little by little, the state has reduced or eliminated COVID-19 restrictions. Starting Thursday, most state employees will no longer be required to mask up while at work. The exceptions are employees working in health care and in corrections.

  • California: State officials say rules requiring indoor masking at California schools and child care facilities will expire Friday, March 11, a move that comes as the state continues its emergence from the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Individual school districts may continue the mandate, however.

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