Coronavirus update: New infections fall, mask rules may soon be loosened

Photo (c) Aleksandr Zubkov - Getty Images

However, consumers shouldn't throw away their masks just yet

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 32,709,612 (32,684,808)

Total U.S. deaths: 581,775 (581,756)

Total global cases: 158,434,226 (153,969,379)

Total global deaths: 3,295,077 (3,280,336)

New infections fall sharply over the weekend

The U.S. continues to make strides in getting the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic under control. An analysis of data compiled by the COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University shows that the growth rate of new cases fell below 41,000 during the weekend, hitting its lowest rate since September.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) credits the steady pace of vaccinations with dramatically reducing the rate of infections. While new cases are falling, vaccinations are occurring at a rate of about 2 million a day, which is about two-thirds of what it once was.

The emphasis is now on vaccinating younger adults, who have been slower to roll up their sleeves. Despite that, the CDC reports that 58% of the population over the age of 18 has now had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Biden edges toward relaxing mask guidelines

As more Americans get vaccinated, many are asking why they have to keep wearing a face mask. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has dropped the statewide mask mandate, asking why a vaccinated person needs to wear one if the public trusts the vaccine.

The Biden administration isn’t prepared to take that step just yet, but it appears to be edging in that direction. Top officials say the key is getting more people vaccinated.

“I would say we are turning the corner,” Jeff Zients, President Biden’s Covid-19 coordinator, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” 

Don’t throw your mask away just yet

Millions of vaccinated Americans are looking forward to taking off their face masks as state after state relaxes mitigation rules. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) says you should hang onto your face covering.

On NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Fauci raised the possibility that Americans would be asked to wear masks on “a seasonal basis,” not to combat COVID-19 necessarily, but to limit cases of the flu.

“It is conceivable that as we go on a year or two or more from now that during certain seasonal periods when you have respiratory borne viruses like the flu, people might actually elect to wear masks to diminish the likelihood that you’ll spread these respiratory borne diseases,” Fauci said.

Novovax reports COVID/flu vaccine shows positive results

While the U.S. appears to have plenty of vaccines to combat COVID-19, Novovax reports positive results on its vaccine that is designed to prevent both the coronavirus and the flu. In a preliminary analysis, the combination vaccine demonstrated positive immune responses to both influenza and SARS-CoV-2. 

A write-up on the results noted that the vaccine elicited robust responses to both influenza A and B and protected against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Clinical studies of the combination vaccine are expected to begin by the end of the year.

"We believe that this novel combination vaccine candidate, which leverages Novavax's technology platform and Matrix-M adjuvant, could be an important future tool in the long-term fight against both of these harmful respiratory viruses," said Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of Research and Development at Novavax.

Survey: Millennials lead post-pandemic travel surge

Airline and cruise bookings are already off the charts. The hospitality industry projects huge gains in 2021 as Americans shake off the pandemic blues and travel again.

A new survey from TripAdvisor shows that it’s millennials leading the charge, especially when it comes to luxury travel. Respondents earning $100,000 or more are most likely to travel in 2021 - with over a third (34%) having already booked a trip for 2021, compared to less than one in five (19%) of the remaining population.

Millennials earning above $50,000 are the most eager to travel by air. Three out of five of those surveyed are considering domestic air compared to 41% among other age groups.

Around the nation

  • New Jersey: State health officials, who greenlighted the state’s reopening later this month, report that more than 3.5 million people have been vaccinated so far -- 52% of the state’s adult population. On Sunday, there were 673 confirmed new cases and 13 deaths.

  • Michigan: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who faced backlash from small businesses for her tough COVID-19 restrictions, has now tied reopening plans to the state’s vaccination rate. Whitner says she will begin easing restrictions once the state achieves a 55% vaccination rate.

  • Arkansas: State health officials have expressed concern that most prison workers in the state have not yet been vaccinated. Statistics show that the vaccination rate among guards and other workers in the state’s correctional institutions remains below 50%.

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