Coronavirus update: New strain appears in Minnesota, states eyeing unused nursing home vaccines

Photo (c) Ahmed Zaggoudi - Getty Images

Experts warn that the risk of infection is rising

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 25,306,581 (25,144,973)

Total U.S. deaths: 421,890 (419,341)

Total global cases: 99,866,335 (99,346,343)

Total global deaths: 2,144,594 (2,132,491)

Brazilian strain found in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health has found a variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) that originated in Brazil. Like the variant identified last month in the U.K., this virus is believed to be more easily transmissible than the original.

Officials said the mutant strain was identified because of the health department’s variant surveillance program. The department said it routinely collects 50 random samples each week for genome sequencing. The infected person is a resident of Minneapolis who had recently traveled to Brazil.

“We’re thankful that our testing program helped us find this case, and we thank all Minnesotans who seek out testing when they feel sick or otherwise have reason to get a test,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement. 

States seek to repurpose unused vaccines

States are complaining about shortages of COVID-19 vaccines, and a few are eyeing unused doses set aside for long-term care facilities. Officials say thousands of shots given to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities through a federal program are going unused, and they’d like to have them.

“We are stressing to our districts to get vaccine moved from freezer to Oklahomans, preferably within a seven-day time period,” said Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of Oklahoma’s health department. “And this vaccine is really just sitting right now.”

Officials say the shortage has grown more severe because most states have now included people age 65 and older in the high priority group to receive the vaccine.

Experts: The risk has increased

With new, easier-to-transmit variants of the coronavirus now circulating in the U.S., health experts say everyday activities Americans have performed with little risk may now carry a higher risk of infection.

"We've seen what happens in other countries that have actually had coronavirus under relatively good control, then these variants took over and they had explosive spread of the virus, and then overwhelmed hospitals," emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN.

As we recently reported, some health experts are urging Americans to upgrade their masks to those that filter out 95 percent of germs. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said wearing two masks can increase protection.

Survey: Pandemic caused a drop in big purchases

Data has shown that consumers, by and large, have saved more money during the coronavirus pandemic. One way they’ve managed to do that, apparently, is by putting off major purchases.

A recent survey from personal finance site WalletHub shows that about 42 percent of U.S. consumers did not make a large purchase in 2020 due to COVID-19. The pandemic has left millions of people unemployed, and the survey authors say that has forced people to reevaluate how much they can afford to spend.

Even consumers who still have their jobs are feeling economic uncertainty. According to the survey, 91 percent of consumers said they put off a big purchase for fear of maxing out their credit card.

This Bud is sitting out the Super Bowl

Budweiser commercials have long been a staple of the Super Bowl telecast. This year, they’ll be noticeably absent during the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs.

Instead, the brewer said it will donate the money it would ordinarily spend on the high-profile event to the Ad Council to purchase time to air informational messages about the coronavirus vaccine.

Budweiser released a YouTube video on Monday announcing its decision while also praising America’s resilience. 

Around the state

  • New York: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio now concedes that the city will fall short of administering 1 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine by the end of January. To date, the city has administered 628,831 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines since shipments first arrived last month. 

  • Pennsylvania: Officials are encouraging school districts around the state to reopen in-person classroom instruction for the state’s elementary school students in cases where it’s safe. Children have been away from the classroom for nearly a year.

  • Wisconsin: The state’s doctors are going head-to-head with Republicans who have proposed overturning the statewide mask mandate. "Other than vaccines, mask-wearing is one of the few tools we have in our arsenal to help prevent spreading COVID-19 even further than it already has," said Dr. Bud Chumbley, chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Medical Society.

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