Coronavirus update: Rising COVID-19 cases but fewer deaths, AstraZeneca gets a do-over

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Hiring surged last week

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 30,015,938 (29,928,341)

Total U.S. deaths: 545,357 (543,933)

Total global cases: 124,971,776 (124,378,693)

Total global deaths: 2,746,581 (2,736,980)

U.S. reporting more cases but fewer deaths

Here’s where the U.S. stands 12 months into the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: New cases of the virus have begun to climb again after a steep drop last month, but the rate of deaths is significantly lower when compared to earlier in the year.

At a White House briefing, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the U.S. is logging a seven-day average of about 55,000 new cases per day. That’s 3 percent higher than last week. In the last 24-hours, the number of U.S. cases went over 30 million.

At the same time, hospitalizations and deaths remain significantly below January levels, before vaccinations were widespread. The U.S. is currently averaging about 4,600 new hospitalizations and nearly 1,000 deaths per day.

AstraZeneca releases new data on its vaccine

AstraZeneca has released new U.S. clinical trial data on its coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, just days after its initial release was criticized by U.S. health officials. On Monday, the company declared that the vaccine had an efficacy rate of 79 percent. The following day, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, raised questions about the results, saying the trial relied on outdated information.

The new report is based on the analysis of 190 cases of symptomatic COVID-19 that occurred in the trial; that’s 49 more than were in the initial release. While the efficacy rate declined slightly -- from 79 percent to 76 percent -- the effectiveness against severe forms of COVID-19, including death, remained at 100 percent. 

Fauci called AstraZeneca’s misstep “an unforced error” and said it is unfortunate because the product “is probably a very good vaccine.”

A big drop in unemployment claims last week

The job market took a big step forward last week as more businesses reopened around the country. The Labor Department reports that initial claims for unemployment tumbled to 684,000 -- the lowest number since the pandemic forced huge layoffs a year ago.

The decrease was dramatic. In the week ending March 20, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was a decline of 97,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 11,000 from 770,000 to 781,000. 

But the news from last week wasn’t all good. Continuing claims for unemployment benefits increased by 733,862 from the previous week to 18,952,795.

Cuomo allegedly let family members cut in line

Embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo allegedly gave members of his family priority to COVID-19 testing in the early days of the pandemic. The Washington Post quotes sources who claim Cuomo’s family members and other well-connected figures got special access to state-administered coronavirus tests

According to the newspaper account, Cuomo sent a top state doctor and other state health officials to the homes of family members and others who requested access to tests, which were in short supply during the early days of the pandemic. 

A Cuomo spokesman denied any impropriety, saying that in the early days of the pandemic the state was taking extraordinary steps to make sure people who might have been exposed to the virus got tested.

CDC rejects plea to lift its ‘no sail’ order

You should probably put your cruise plans on hold for a while. The CDC has rejected a plea from the cruise industry to lift its No Sail Order, now in place until Nov. 1.

The Cruise Lines International Association petitioned the CDC to lift the order several months early, saying it believed it was safe for vaccinated people to be aboard ships as early as July. The CDC said it disagrees.

"Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. Details for the next phase of the CSO are currently under interagency review," the agency said. 

Around the nation

  • Minnesota: State health officials report that a small number of residents who have been fully vaccinated have tested positive for COVID-19, patients referred to as “breakthrough cases.” Officials have counted 89 such cases, with a small number of them requiring hospitalization. 

  • Virginia: The wedding industry has been hard-hit by the pandemic because large gatherings have largely been prohibited. Now, wedding venues in the state have banded together to sue Gov. Ralph Northam, charging that his updated coronavirus restrictions are continuing to treat them unfairly.

  • Illinois: Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady is expressing concern about a sharp rise in new COVID-19 cases in the city. "I was very much hoping today to be able to do some further reopening," Arwady said. "In the setting of what these numbers look like, we're just keeping a close eye. We've got to come back down to moderate risk in all of our indicators."

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