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Coronavirus update: New cases and deaths keep falling, it’s getting easier to travel

Dr. Fauci warns that virus variants still pose a threat

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 33,394,843 (33,379,300)

Total U.S. deaths: 598,402 (598,006)

Total global cases: 174,082,010 (173,709,075) 

Total global deaths: 3,749,754 (3,739,415)

New cases, deaths down sharply in the last week

For much of the nation, the coronavirus is becoming just a bad memory. This week, new cases of the virus and resulting deaths hit their lowest point since the early days of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University reported fewer than 14,400 daily infections over the last week. Daily deaths have averaged fewer than 500 during that same period.

Health officials say it’s too early for a victory lap, noting that some states -- especially in the South -- lag the rest of the nation in vaccinating their residents. About 42% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and more than half have received at least one dose of vaccine.

U.S. eases international travel restrictions

In good news for the airline industry, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has loosened travel recommendations for more than 100 countries. The latest ratings posted on the CDC website include 61 countries that, until recently, carried the agency’s highest warning level.

Most of the other nations on the list had recently carried the lower “Level 2” or “Level 1,” designations. Several popular European destinations -- including France, Spain, and Italy -- were lowered or remained at “Level 3.”

The CDC move coincided with a call by airline executives at the beginning of the week to ease international travel restrictions. The executives called for joint action by both the U.S. and British governments. 

Fauci warns against the spread of the Delta strain

COVID-19 variants have fueled the spread of the virus in many parts of the world where the vaccine rollout has been slower than it has been in the U.S. The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, appears to spread easily.

Even with a large percentage of Americans fully vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says it is imperative to keep the variant from spreading in the U.S.

“In the U.K., the Delta variant is rapidly emerging as the dominant variant,” Fauci said at a White House briefing. “It is replacing the B.1.1.7. We cannot let that happen in the United States.”

Study shows single-shot vaccine effective against variants

The Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine has caused some concern lately because of rare but serious side effects. A new study, however, suggests that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found that the vaccine is also highly effective in countering some virus variants.

“The concern is whether SARS-CoV-2 variants may reduce the efficacy of current vaccines that were designed to protect against the original SARS-CoV-2 strain at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dan Barouch, senior author of the study and also Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.  “These findings therefore have important implications for vaccine protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.”

Many older adults increased pandemic alcohol consumption

Older Americans were the first to get the COVID-19 vaccine and begin the transition to post-pandemic life. A new poll suggests that many of these same people also need to dial back their alcohol consumption to normal levels.

The National Poll on Healthy Aging found that 23% of adults over age 50 who drink alcohol reported that they routinely had three or more drinks in one sitting. Another 10% of adults who drink use other drugs while drinking, including marijuana or prescription medications that can interact with alcohol in risky ways.

“Even before the pandemic, heavier and more risky drinking habits were increasing in older adults at a faster rate than among younger adults,” said Anne Fernandez, Ph.D., a University of Michigan psychologist who worked with the poll team on the report.

Around the nation

  • Iowa: State police officials blame the pandemic for a sharp rise in traffic fatalities last year. As a result, highway patrol director Col. Nathan Fulk said the state is increasing enforcement efforts. “Since the pandemic, we’ve encountered some of the most dangerous driving we’ve witnessed in our 85-year history,” he said.

  • South Carolina: Gov. Henry McMaster has officially ended South Carolina’s COVID-19 state of emergency. “The end of the emergency doesn’t mean the end of the effort,” said Dr. Edward Simmer, the state’s top health official. “So there’s much more work that we’re going to be doing to get more folks vaccinated.”

  • Illinois: The state has seen fewer daily cases of the coronavirus since the start of the month, and nowhere are infection rates improving faster than in Chicago, according to health officials. Chicago is now averaging fewer than 100 daily COVID-19 cases compared to more than 2,300 daily cases in November.

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