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Coronavirus update: Johnson & Johnson takes charge, half of U.S. states now vaccinate everyone

Airline change fees are returning

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 30,708,630  (30,605,164)

Total U.S. deaths: 555,021 (554,246)

Total global cases: 131,435,555 (130,683,807)

Total global deaths: 2,854,911 (2,789,141)

Johnson & Johnson takes over vaccine plant

At the request of the federal government, Johnson & Johnson said it will take over the Baltimore plant producing its coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine. The move comes after manufacturing issues at the plant resulted in the loss of 15 million doses.

In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said it is beefing up quality control at the Emergent BioSolutions’ Bayview facility. Specifically, the company is adding dedicated personnel for operations and quality while significantly increasing the number of manufacturing, quality, and technical operations personnel to work with the J&J specialists already at Emergent.

The company also said all Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed to date have met rigorous internal and regulatory quality standards. It said it expects to deliver nearly 100 million single-shot doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the U.S. government by the end of May.

More states to open vaccinations to everyone

Since the beginning of the year, young people have watched, perhaps with some envy, as their parents and grandparents got COVID-19 vaccinations and began to resume a more normal life. Now, it’s their turn.

At least half of all U.S. states this week are putting eligibility rules in place that open vaccinations to everyone age 16 and older. It’s in keeping with President Biden’s request that states adopt universal eligibility by April 19.

Some states that are not ready to embrace universal eligibility are increasing the number of people who can get the vaccine. Today, Philadelphia added sanitation workers, janitorial staff, utility workers, and postal employees to the groups that have priority to sign up for appointments.

Airlines get ready to resume change fees

Getting back to normal may not be all that advantageous for airline passengers. Airlines have waived some fees since the start of the pandemic, but now those charges are starting to return.

Starting this week, American Airlines is doing away with travel vouchers that allow customers to change flight plans without rebooking fees. Delta Air Lines has said it will adopt the same position next month.

United Airlines is also resuming change fees in May, but it’s giving customers until April 2022 to use the ones they already have. By next month, all airlines will also be selling the middle seat again. 

CVS expands test availability at MinuteClinics

CVS Health says it is increasing the availability of COVID-19 antibody testing at its MinuteClinic locations. Company officials say the point-of-care test can help identify if a patient has previously been infected with COVID-19, and the results are available within 15 minutes.

"After successfully piloting the antibody test offering at more than 100 MinuteClinic locations earlier this year, and recently launching the service at all of our clinic locations in Massachusetts and Texas, we have seen steady interest in affordable COVID-19 antibody testing," said Sharon Vitti, president of MinuteClinic. 

A COVID-19 antibody test is not intended to diagnose a current infection. During the test, a member of the MinuteClinic team will perform the antibody test, which includes the collection of a finger stick blood sample. After the analysis is complete, they review the results with the patient. The COVID-19 antibody test looks for the presence of antibodies generated by a previous infection with the virus.

Some Americans are getting extra stimulus payments

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it is sending out another batch of $1,400 stimulus checks. The third round of checks includes so-called “plus-up” payments for people who are eligible for more cash, based on their 2020 tax returns.

The extra money is going to people whose first payments were formulated using their 2019 tax returns. In many cases, these taxpayers lost significant income in 2020 during the pandemic.

Recipients also include people who aren’t legally required to file a tax return but did so for 2020 in order to qualify for the payments. The extra payments were authorized last month under the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan passed by Congress.

Around the nation

  • Florida: As the state opens up vaccination eligibility to all adults, health agencies are looking for larger venues to hold mass vaccinations. Since college students can now get the shots, the University of Florida is using its football stadium as a mass vaccination site.

  • Tennessee: The state of Tennessee has passed a vaccination milestone, with 1 million state residents now inoculated against COVID-19. ‘’We celebrate this milestone and expect to see this number increase as the vaccine is more widely available,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey.  “The hard work and dedication of our local health departments and statewide vaccine partners have helped us reach this significant moment in our fight against COVID-19.”

  • Illinois: State health officials say they are troubled by Illinois’ coronavirus positivity rate, which stubbornly held at a two-month high on Sunday. The state reported 2,449 new and probable COVID-19 cases that were detected among 64,116 tests processed in the last 24 hours.

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