Coronavirus update: Health officials identify more variants

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Employment data suggests that things are returning to normal

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

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 80,104,757 (80,058,164)

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 980,650 (979,879)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 488,654,695 (487,106,557)

Total ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 6,144,667 (6,139,976)‌

Health agency identifies another variant

The BA.2 Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has quickly become the most dominant strain in the U.S. However, there’s now another variant to worry about.

Actually, there’s more than one. The U.K. Health Services Agency recently identified variants it calls XD and XF, describing them as combinations of Delta and BA.1, or so-called “Deltacron” strains, which have been talked about for months.

A report this week by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that XD and XF have combined to create a new variant it calls XE. The report says XE may be the most transmissible mutation of the COVID-19 virus yet.

March jobs report suggests things are returning to normal

One gauge of how the pandemic has affected the economy is employment. Despite the “Great Resignation,” the Labor Department reports that employment conditions in March are returning to normal two years after the start of the pandemic.

The economy created 431,000 jobs in March, and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.6%. The labor participation rate was nearly the same as it was in February 2020, before the start of the pandemic.

The leisure and hospitality sector of the economy continued to lead the jobs recovery in March. The overall sector added 112,000 jobs last month, with more than half the hiring taking place at bars and restaurants.

Plasma can be an effective treatment

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, say plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and whose blood contains antibodies is an effective and safe option as an early outpatient treatment for the disease. 

Administering antibodies from recovered patients was an early measure that some doctors employed, but it was soon overshadowed by drug therapies and vaccines. The latest research shows that plasma, when given to outpatients within nine days of testing positive, cuts hospitalizations in half.

“Based on our findings and conclusions, which are now validated through the peer-review process, we encourage health care professionals to keep SARS-CoV-2 antibody-rich blood plasma available in their blood banks as part of the treatment arsenal against early-stage COVID-19,” said study co-lead author Dr. David Sullivan.

Around the nation

  • New Jersey: Deaths from COVID-19 are being cited as the reason for the state’s population dipping slightly between 2020 and 2021. Census records show that New Jersey’s population declined by about 22,000. Hudson County recorded one of the biggest drops for any county in the nation.

  • Ohio: As the number of coronavirus cases continues to fall, Ohio still has millions of dollars in COVID-19 aid from the federal government. Gov. Mike DeWine says the state will use about $10.5 million in leftover money to purchase nine new machines that analyze and compare bullets and other ballistic evidence to help solve crimes.

  • Michigan: The state health department is partnering with major libraries to distribute at-home COVID-19 tests. The state said it has shipped out 24,000 tests to participating locations. People can get one kit per person or up to five for a household.

  • Oregon: The state is drawing down its response to the coronavirus by ending a command team that had coordinated efforts since August to combat surges of COVID-19. "Though the period of active operations ends today, some team members will continue to serve through the end of June," the state health department said in a statement.

  • Louisiana: Health department records show that the number of COVID-19 patients in Louisiana hospitals fell below 100 this week for the first time since the start of the pandemic. When the Delta variant was spreading rapidly last summer, there were 3,022 patients in hospitals at the wave’s peak. 

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